Skip to main content
Internet Archive's 25th Anniversary Logo

Full text of "The Princeton Seminary Bulletin"

See other formats

P R I N C E T 

VOLUME 31 I 201 

O N 
R Y 
I N 

Brothers • Flett • Bynum • Graham • Hunsinger • Lieu • Miller 
Najman • Young • Sacks • Handles • Lewis • McKee 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2018 with funding from 
Princeton Theological Seminary Library 




VOLUME 31 2010 

Stephen D. Crocco, Editor 
Mary M. Astarita, Managing Editor 



Theological Seminary 


Iain R. Torrance, President 

Board of Trustees 

Robert W. Bohl, Chair 
Leslie W. Braksick, Vice Chair 
John T. Galloway Jr., Secretary 

Robert M. Adams 

Dorothy A. Johnson 

Fred R. Anderson 

Thomas R. Johnson 

Darrell L. Armstrong 

Todd B. Jones 

M. Craig Barnes 

Richard Kannwischer 

Paul A. Branstad 

F. Carter Karins 

Amy Woods Brinkley 

Jinsoo Kim 

Martha Z. Carter 

James H. Logan Jr. 

Sang Chang 

David M. Mace 

Warren D. Chinn 

Kari Turner McClellan 

Gary 0. Dennis 

Deborah A. McKinley 

John H. Donelik 

Neal D. Presa 

Michael G. Fisch 

William P. Robinson 

Mary Lee Fitzgerald 

Thomas J. Rosser 

Francisco 0. Garcia-Treto 

Ruth Faith Santana-Grace 

Nancy Oliver Gray 

Virginia J. Thornburgh 

Heather Sturt Haaga 

George B. Wirth 

Craig A. Huff 

Susan F. Wonderland 



Clarence B. Ammons 

Johannes R. Krahmer 

Stewart B. Clifford 

Earl F. Palmer 

Peter E. B. Erdman 

William H. Scheide 

Rosemary Hall Evans 

Arthur F. Sueltz 

Sarah Belk Gambrell 

Paul E. Vawter Jr. 

Joan I. Gotwals 

Samuel G. Warr 

C. Thomas Hilton 

David B. Watermulder 

David H. Hughes 

Jane C. Wright 

F. Martin Johnson 

Ralph M. Wyman 

Justin M. Johnson 



Kenneth G. Appold 
Shane Berg 
C. Clifton Black II 
John R. Bowlin 
Michael A. Brothers 
Sally A. Brown 
James H. Charlesworth 
Ellen T. Charry 
Stephen D. Crocco 
Kenda Creasy Dean 
James C. Deming 
Frederick W. Dobbs-Allsopp 
Nancy J. Duff 
Robert C. Dykstra 
Beverly Roberts Gaventa 
L. Gordon Graham 
Nancy Lammers Gross 

Diogenes Allen 
James F. Armstrong 
Richard S. Armstrong 
Charles F. Bartow 
William Brower 
Donald E. Capps 
Jane Dempsey Douglass 
Elizabeth G. Edwards 
Abigail Rian Evans 
Richard K. Fenn 

The Faculty, 2010-2011 

Darrell L. Guder 

Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger 

George Hunsinger 

Jeremy M. Hutton 

W. Stacy Johnson 

James F. Kay 

Jacqueline E. Lapsley 

Cleophus J. LaRue 

Bo Karen Lee 

Eunny Patricia Lee 

Sang Hyun Lee 

Bruce L. McCormack 

Elsie Anne McKee 

Kathleen E. McVey 

Gordon S. Mikoski 

James H. Moorhead 


Karlfried Froelich 
Freda A. Gardner 
Thomas W. Gillespie 
Geddes W. Hanson 
Scott H. Hendrix 
James N. Lapsley Jr. 
Conrad H. Massa 
Paul W. Meyer 
Daniel L. Migliore 
Patrick D. Miller 

Dennis T. Olson 
Richard R. Osmer 
George L. Parsenios 
Yolanda Pierce 
Michael Nai-Chiu Poon 
Luke A. Powery 
Paul E. Rorem 
Katherine Doob Sakenfeld 
Choon-Leong Seow 
Loren T. Stuckenbruck 
Mark L. Taylor 
Martin Tel 
Iain R. Torrance 
J. Wentzel van Huyssteen 
J. Ross Wagner 
Richard Fox Young 

Samuel Hugh Moffett 
Peter J. Paris 
Luis N. Rivera-Pagan 
J. J. M. Roberts 
Charles A. Ryerson III 
Max L. Stackhouse 
John W. Stewart 
Charles C. West 
E. David Willis 




Volume 31 




1? l|ik %& | 

% A, Mf 

1 Editor’s Note 

« NijHK... v 5$5 ,r ’ t H 

Opening Communion Sermon 

2 Sibling Revelry 



Stephen D. Crocco 

Michael A. Brothers 


7 The Resurrection from the Dead as 

the Declaration of God’s Eternal Being and the 
Christian Community’s Eschatological Reality 

27 Miraculous Objects and Their Theorists: 

A Glimpse into Attitudes toward the Holy 
in the Late Middle Ages 

44 Witherspoon, Reid, and 

Scottish Philosophy in America 

55 Bearing the Unbearable: Trauma, 

Gospel, and Pastoral Care 

74 Between Text and Community: 

Jews and Christians in the Second Century 

90 God among the Gods: Defining Deity 
in a Differentiated Religious Context 

101 Configuring the Text in Biblical Studies 

120 Between Englishness and Ethiopianism: 
Making Space at Princeton 
for Intercultural Theology 

John G. Flett 

Caroline Walker Bynum 

Gordon Graham 

Deborah van Deusen 

Judith M. Lieu 

Patrick D. Miller 
Hindy Najman 

Richard Fox Young 



Covenant and Hope in Civil Society 

Jonathan Sacks 

138 “The Promises of God”: 

New African Missionary Initiatives in the 
Lengthened Shadow of the 1910 Edinburgh 

Missionary Conference Jehu J. Handles 

149 The Flesh Became (the) Word: 

Constructing Countemarratives for Gender, 

Race, and Class Jacqui Lewis 



The First French Institutes : 

Calvin’s Pastoral Voice 

Elsie Anne McKee 


Faculty Publications 2009 

© 2010 Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

The Princeton Seminary Bulletin is published annually by Princeton Theological Semi¬ 
nary, Princeton, New Jersey. 

Issues can be digitally accessed at: Recent issues, printed on 
demand for a modest price, can be ordered from 

All correspondence should be addressed to Mary M. Astarita, Managing Editor, Princeton 
Seminary Bulletin, PO. Box 821, Princeton NJ 08542-0803; email: seminary.bulletin@ 

The Princeton Seminary Bulletin publishes lectures and sermons by Princeton Theologi¬ 
cal Seminary faculty and administrators and presentations by guests on the Seminary 
campus. Therefore, we do not accept unsolicited material. 

This periodical is indexed in the ATLA Religion Database, published by the American 
Theological Library Association, 250 S. Wacker Dr., 16th Fir., Chicago, IL 60606; ISSN: 
1937-8386; ISBN: 978-0-9644891-4-1. 

Cover photo by Beckey White Newgren. 


Editor’s Note 

x wo thousand ten was a watershed year for Princeton Theological Seminary. 
Construction began on three large buildings for married student housing at the 
Seminary’s Charlotte Rachel Wilson campus, leading to the replacement of 
outdated student apartments. On the main campus, Speer Library, home to the 
Seminary’s prestigious library collections, simply vanished to make way for 
a new library building. While all this work was being done, lecturers came to 
campus in an uninterrupted stream, continuing to make Princeton Theological 
Seminary an exciting place to do theological work. 

This issue of the Princeton Seminary Bulletin features the usual rich assortment 
of lectures and addresses. I stand by what I have written in earlier years, namely, 
that each issue of the Bulletin provides a snapshot of the first-rate scholarship 
and inspiring pieces from a wide range of scholarly disciplines. There are few 
publications where the investment of a couple of hours of reading will expose 
a reader to such a varied collection of high-quality theological, historical, and 
philosophical work. 

Professor Elsie McKee’s article on Calvin’s Institutes was inadvertently omitted 
from the 2009 issue of the Bulletin , where it would have joined other articles as 
a contribution to the Calvin quincentenary. Rather than accept this omission as 
providential and abandon it, I decided to include her piece in the 2010 issue. It 
provides a fascinating and fresh angle on Calvin as a pastor. 

Stephen D. Crocco 

DOI: 10.3754/1937-8386.2010.31.01 


Opening Communion 

Sibling Revelry 

by Michael A. Brothers 

Michael A. Brothers, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Speech Communication in 
Ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary. He preached this sermon at the 
opening communion service on September 20, 2010, in Miller Chapel. 

Luke 15:11-32 

J. t was the final gathering of pastors at the Joe R. Engle Institute of Preaching. 

I look forward to this institute all year, when those who have been in ministry 
for at least two years come to be better preachers—to better proclaim the gospel 
in their particular communities. I look forward to this gathering of preachers 

because they know what they know, and they know what they don’t know —and 

they want my help, though I’m kept humble by the pastor who said, “They really 
should teach a speech course like this at Princeton Seminary.” Turns out, he was 
one of my former students in the required year-long course in speech. 

It was at this final gathering that Dean James Kay, quoting James Forbes, said 
that preachers need to be called and re-called. As Dean Kay continued, an irrev¬ 
erent reverend next to me whispered in my ear, “That could be taken two differ¬ 
ent ways.” Disguising a chuckle as a cough, I realized he was right. Whether a 
preacher is re-called or recalled depends on how it is said and how it is heard. It 
depends on the tone of voice. 

In the parable of the prodigal son and the elder brother, we have images and 
tones for characters who are both re-called and recalled. We often think of this 
story in terms of plot. However, when reading the text aloud, I find myself 

DOI: 10.3754/1937-8386.2010.31.02 


Sibling Revelry 

focusing on the eye and the ear. Helmut Thielcke said that the “parables are the 
picture book of God.” And I would add, “with sound.” 

The images in the first half of the parable are familiar to us as pictures hung 
on the wall, scenes embellished with depictions ranging from church school 
cartoons to Rembrandt. The first frame is the cocky pose of the younger sibling, 
straight-eyed, asking for—or rather, demanding—his inheritance through the 
selling of property. Seen through our eyes, where parents are expected to jeop¬ 
ardize their future financial security by sending their youngest on their way—to 
college, or grad school, or seminary—we may miss the first-century recognition 
of a scene set for financial and family ruin. Property was security, and children 
guaranteed the future. They were needed to run things and keep things going. 
They were needed to work. In one painting of this scene, in the comer of the 
house, the mother is knitting, with an anxious look on her face, seemingly pow¬ 
erless during a transaction between father and son that will change the life of her 
family forever. As for the tone of asking for your inheritance ahead of time, you 
might as well call your father dead to his face. Try to say that out loud with the 
names of your own parents to get a taste of the impact of this scene. 

The picture in the next frame is abstract, dark, and cloudy; you can’t really make 
out any figures. The title underneath reads, “Squandering Wealth in Dissolute 
Living,” a picture kept pretty vague by the narrator Jesus but fleshed out with 
detail in the imagination of the older brother: “Your son devoured your prop¬ 
erty with prostitutes.” I might add that this section was pretty fleshed out in the 
imaginations of some commentators as well. 

The next picture is that of a gaunt, broken, lonely, lifeless-looking shell of a man 
bent over a pigsty, a sign recognized by eyes earlier than our own as insult to 
injury, ultimate debasement, a situation that can’t get any worse. 

When the father enters the picture, however, it’s like the great wall of Hogwarts 
in a Harry Potter movie, where the characters go back and forth entering living 
scenes in picture frames. Instead of creating new portraits, it’s as if the father 
appears in all three: inverting, flipping, smudging out, and painting over; a 
straight-eyed, demanding pose of a son becomes averted eyes and an attempted 
kneel, failed because of a clutching embrace that is not ready to let go. 

When the father enters the portrait of the murky shadows of “dissolute living,” 
he does not clean it up, whitewash it, or discreetly turn it toward the wall. He 
splashes it with color and sound—details of an extravagant banquet with music 
and dancing, prompted by his call, “Let’s eat and celebrate!” This is more than 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

a dinner party; and it’s more than cranking up the Black Eyed Peas. I would 
paint this party as a potlatch, a festal ceremony of the Native Americans and 
First People of my childhood home, the Pacific Northwest. Here the host gives 
extravagant gifts to all the guests. Potlatch , even the name itself means to “give 
away” or “a gift.” In fact, it has been legally banned in some places because the 
hosts would literally give away everything they owned. 

When the father enters the next picture, it’s as if the negative space has been 
inverted; the once exposed outline of a hungry jagged body is now filled, fully 
enveloped by a parent’s embrace. Rags are painted over with a robe for the 
honored guest at a feast. Inedible pigs give way to a succulent calf. Ring and 
shoes are detailed onto hands and feet—blotting out, erasing any conditions for 
full family membership. As for the sound of the scene, some writers want you 
to choose between two options regarding the tone of the younger son. On one 
side is an earnest confession of a contrite heart—like the Publican, the sound of 
sincere remorse: “Lord, forgive me, a sinner.” On the other side, the younger son 
is portrayed as simply an opportunist. In the extreme, he is portrayed as a carica¬ 
ture from an episode of Jersey Shore : “Whoa, I mus’ be crazy stayin’ here—they 
got a sweet deal at home!” 

His confession was probably like ours, a mixture of remorse and desperation, 
the sound of homesickness. Either way, it doesn’t matter. The son’s rehearsed 
speech is ignored, interrupted by shouts for restoration and celebration. I never 
really experienced this interruption until I read it aloud. You don’t necessar¬ 
ily see it on the page, but you can hear it: the only requirement of the lost to be 
found, is being found—being there. 

Searching. Running. Embracing. Celebrating. These images are familiar, and 
they need to be, until they become familiar gestures of our congregations. But 
what surprised me in the second half of the story was how unfamiliar I was with 
the elder brother. Not so much the image —two silhouettes against the dusky sky 
outside the house, one sulking, the other pleading. I was familiar enough with 
this image. I was unfamiliar with the elder son’s voice. When “taking on” his 
voice, it’s too easy to set him up. 

In performance studies, we say there are flat characters and round characters. 

Flat doesn’t mean monotone with no emotion; it means that emotions and voice 
are staged, set, and predictable. If it’s a flat character in a morality play, once 
you learn the lesson, “Don’t be like the self-righteous elder brother; be like the 
welcoming Father,” you can easily throw the character away. If it’s a melo¬ 
drama, the preacher’s rant against the grudge-bearing son is good entertainment, 


Sibling Revelry 

and when the entertainment is over, the son is easily dismissed. Both have noth¬ 
ing to do with the rounded characters in our lives, including ourselves. 

So to better understand the elder brother’s complaint, I offer some complaints 
that I’ve heard against homecomings from being a pastor, a teacher, a family 
member, and a friend. I heard a woman who was planning her wedding, who, 
after not hearing from her father for thirteen years when he abandoned his fam¬ 
ily, is told by her mother that he would like to attend the ceremony. He realizes it 
probably would be “too much” to escort his daughter down the aisle but wants to 
know if he can attend. The tone of the bride’s voice is filled with anger and hurt: 
“After thirteen years, how dare he!” 

I’ve heard a sister and a brother whose other sister never visited their dying 
mother but showed up at the funeral asking about the divvying up of their 
mother’s furniture. “What did she ever do?” “She has her nerve, coming in here 
like that.” 

I’ve heard a father spit out his inner turmoil when his son, who stole from the 
family business, wanted to return for Christmas dinner. “Not at my table,” mut¬ 
ters the father. 

Perhaps by hearing a little clearer the true anger and resentment of the elder sib¬ 
ling, we might know how hard it would be to enter that door, to step inside. And 
we might understand a little better why the father had to plead. 

I’ve heard Michelle Shocked sing her complaint against the whole story: 

What’s to be done with a prodigal son? 

Welcome him home with open arms 
Throw a big party, invite your friends 
Our boy’s come back home 

When a girl goes home with the oats he’s sown 
It’s draw your shades and your shutters 
She’s bringing such shame to the family name 
The return of the prodigal daughter 

I’ve heard a woman in her thirties tell me of her seventeen-year-old daughter 
who appeared out of the blue one day on her doorstep. Seventeen years ago, as a 
teenager, she had offered her baby daughter for adoption. Now she could hardly 
wait to introduce her daughter to her church, not only to her friends but also to 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

the young women she taught in church school. After that Sunday, she was called 
in and “gently notified” that there had been complaints. It was no longer appro¬ 
priate for her to serve as a teacher, for she would not be a good role model for 
young women. She told me, “I was so nai've. I was so excited about finding my 
daughter and bringing her to church, it didn’t even occur to me there would be a 
problem.” She and her daughter were inside celebrating, whereas the congrega¬ 
tion was out in the fields—work, work, work. 

The truth is that most of us are the elder sibling in the story, or we wouldn’t be 
here today: responsibly following the rules, steps, procedures, and exams (and 
expecting others to do so); making up for lack of joy with discipline, and a lack 
of God’s presence with productivity. And when we are “prone to wander, Lord, 

I feel it,” we forget it’s to leave the one we “love.” So we bury our hoes all the 
deeper in the same place—work, work, work. Perhaps one of the reasons the 
elder son is here , while the party is going on over there is not a matter of prin¬ 
ciple. He just can’t dance. He never learned how, never had the time. 

Sometimes it takes an unabashed celebration of salvation to remind us that 
we’ve worked ourselves into a far off place—and that we need to be recalled in 
order to be re-called. 

We who are working in the fields of faith are met by the host of the potlatch, 
who says “All that is mine is yours. I’ve already given it all away. I gave you 
my son. But there is a celebration, for all who were dead—and all who are dead 
inside—to come to life. We have to celebrate!” 

We may even have to dance. 

Do you hear the tones? The opening wide of doors? The snap of bread; the 
splash of wine? Songs at the supper table? In the words of the host, “Let’s eat 
and celebrate!” u 



The Resurrection from the Dead as the Declaration 
of God’s Eternal Being and the Christian Community’s 
Eschatological Reality 

by John G. Flett 

Dr. John G. Flett is writing his habilitation dissertation at the Kirchliche Hoch- 
schule Wuppertal-Bethel, Germany. His dissertation, The Witness of God: The 
Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community, was 
published in 2010 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans). He delivered this paper at 
the Fifth Annual Conference on Karl Barth, sponsored by the Center for Barth 
Studies of Princeton Theological Seminary, June 20-23, 2010. The theme of the 
Conference was “The Church Is as Such a Missionary Church: Barth as a ‘Mis- 
sional Theologian.”’ The papers presented at the conference will appear in a 
forthcoming volume. 

John 11:25 

I. Introduction 

J. t is a common concern, stated to the point of redundancy, that Karl Barth 
displays, quoting Nicholas Healy, a “strong tendency towards an abstract and 
reductionistic ecclesiology.” 1 I intend here to contest this claim. I do so because 
such assertions fail to anywhere address Barth’s thinking on the missionary 
shape of the church. This failure has an origin: it is the result of a blinding 
assumption concerning the necessary nature of the church, one that precludes 
mission as basic. This notion of the church, here termed nonmissionary, includes 
a determination of the church’s “visibility,” of what it means to live the “narra¬ 
tive” of the gospel. It determines, in other words, a peculiar account of Christian 
witness. This nonmissionary assumption does not neglect mission— this is 

1 Nicholas M. Healy, “The Logic of Karl Barth’s Ecclesiology: Analysis, Assessment, and Pro¬ 
posed Modifications,” Modern Theology 10, no. 3 (1994): 263. 

DOI: 10.3754/1937-8386.2010.31.03 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

important to remember. By virtue of mission’s marginalization, a functional¬ 
ist account of the missionary act results. It is derivative of the church and its 
witness, and dependent on external contingencies for its initiation and form. 
Mission, in other words, does exist but precisely in such a way that it is not sub¬ 
stantive when defining the church. Such a general assumption consigns all refer¬ 
ences to mission to a theological redundancy. This is true also for Barth. Insofar 
as he describes the church in missionary terms, the normative dismissal of 
mission makes his church appear to be evacuated of content. This is especially 
so given that he uses “mission” to critique those elements deemed otherwise 
necessary to the church and its witness. 

The generic charge of Barth’s insubstantial ecclesiology is assumed to be a leg¬ 
acy of his emphasis on the divine to the neglect of the human and can be parsed 
in three ways. Blame lies, in the first instance, with Barth’s eschatology. In Wolf- 
hart Pannenberg’s estimation, Barth’s “concentration on the constitutive reality 
of God in relation to the present replaced the biblical eschatology of the future. 
Thus this eschatology lost its specific temporal structure, its tension relative to 
the future consummation.” 2 To redress the pretentious usurpation of the divine 
by the human, God breaks into history with such force that all is rendered asun¬ 
der. This apocalyptic purification seemingly consumed even the future, leaving 
no history, no stage, for the Christian community to work out its salvation even 
in fear and trembling. To quote David Fergusson, “Barth’s early tendency to 
telescope all eschatological occurrence into a single momentary event renders 
any narrative account of the last things problematic.” 3 Everything of theological 
gravitas has already occurred in the act of God. The church contributes nothing 
of its own. The church and its witness, famously, take shape simply as “a crater 
formed by the explosion of a shell.” 4 

Second, Barth purportedly compounds this evacuation of the historical by the 
eschatological with a retreat into protology. Barth would himself acknowledge 
that the “eschatological application on which [the theology of crisis] rested was 
too strong and arbitrary and independent like all reactions.” 5 His 1956 essay, 
“The Humanity of God,” noted that this driving concern with the divine as 
divine had produced something of a characterization: “a God absolutely unique 

2 Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology (3 vols.), vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 

3 David Fergusson, “Barth’s Resurrection of the Dead: Further Reflections,” Scottish Journal 
of Theology 56, no. 1 (2003): 71. 

4 Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns, 6th ed. (London: Oxford 
University, 1933), 36. 

5 Karl Barth, CD II/1, 636. 


The Resurrection from the Dead 

in His relation to [the human] and the world, overpoweringly lofty and distant, 
strange, yes even wholly other.” 6 The proposed solution lay in understanding 
that God’s “deity encloses humanity in itself ” 7 For Colin Gunton, this merely 
reinforces the problem. In the election of Jesus Christ and the de jure election of 
all humanity in him, “eschatology is so determined by protology that the end is 
effectively detennined by the beginning, and history is, apparently, closed to the 
recreating work of the Spirit.” 8 The eschatological problem as a consequence of 
God’s consumption of the present retreats now into the nature of God’s a se per¬ 
fection. The end of time is a story already told before creation. With the future 
of God’s acting found in his eternal decision, the event of Jesus Christ exhausts 
that future. Human response to God’s action rests simply in witnessing to, by 
acknowledging, a past event. 

To this is added, third, a pneumatological complaint. For Joseph Mangina. the 
critiques centered on temporality are better summarized as a “ pneumatologi- 
cal worry and specifically, a worry about the role played by the church in the 
economy of salvation.” 9 Robert Jenson holds a similar position; it is Barth’s 
“avoidance of the church ” that underlies the “whole web of Spirit-avoidance” 
in the Church Dogmatics . 10 Nor does this complaint occur in an ecclesiological 
vacuum. Jenson expects an ecclesiology of communion and a definite account of 
the Spirit’s acting in relation to the witness of the church. “[I]f the Pentecostal 
creation of a structured continuing community were identified as the ‘objectiv¬ 
ity’ of the gospel’s truth pro nobis, then this community itself, in its structured 
temporal and spatial extension, would be seen as the Bedingung der Moglichkeit 
[condition of the possibility ] of faith.” 11 Efforts to overcome Barth’s observed 
ecclesiological limitation employ the language of the empirical, of continuity, 
of “concrete visibility.” Mangina contrasts Barth’s position in which the church 
becomes “merely a human echo or analogy of Christ’s completed work,” with 
one in which the church is “somehow the herald of new activity in which God is 
engaged between now and the eschaton.” 12 The difference seemingly resides in 
the theological substance attributed to the community and its institutions, as this 
is the proper working of the Spirit and the necessary form of Christian witness. 

6 Karl Barth, “The Humanity of God,” in The Humanity of God (Louisville: Westminster John 
Knox, 1960), 37. 

7 Ibid., 50. 

8 Colin E. Gunton. “Election and Ecclesiology in the Post-Constantinian Church,” Scottish 
Journal of Theology 53, no. 2 (2000): 214. 

9 Joseph L. Mangina, “Bearing the Marks of Jesus: The Church in the Economy of Salvation in 
Barth and Hauerwas,” The Scottish Journal of Theology 52, no. 3 (1999): 282. 

10 Robert W. Jenson, “You Wonder Where the Spirit Went,” Pro Ecclesia 2, no. 3 (1993): 302. 

11 Ibid, 303. 

12 Mangina, “Bearing the Marks of Jesus,” 282. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

Although these complaints occur in various manifestations, each finds expres¬ 
sion in relation to Barth’s account of the resurrection. As the resurrection indi¬ 
cates reconciliation’s completion, so it occludes the eschatological unfolding of 
this reality within and among contingent humanity. As the resurrection declares 
the nature of God’s perfection from all eternity, so the protological evacuates the 
historical. As the objectivity of reconciliation is located in Jesus Christ’s pro¬ 
phetic ministry, so the action of the Spirit, and coincidently the church, appear 
vague and muted. 

That these complaints meet in the resurrection is noteworthy, for it is on this 
ground that Barth gives the church a missionary structure. Mission is the proper 
ordering of the community that lives in the realism of Easter. The resurrection 
does indeed declare the nature of the God from and to all eternity. Jesus Christ is 
revealed to be the true God and the true human. This active union of the divine 
and the human is declarative. Jesus Christ is the true witness because the “true 
and living God is eloquent and radiant.” 13 Far from protology exhausting the 
history of human response, it determines the concrete form of his community. 
Reconciliation is complete after the nature of God’s own perfection: it is itself 
eloquent and radiant. The living divine-human fellowship is a history of witness. 
Reconciled human relationship with God corresponds to Jesus Christ’s own life 
in the transitioning power of the Spirit: it is a community structured as a mis¬ 
sionary community. 

II. Forming the Church “after” the Apostles 

Before turning to Barth, it is necessary to address the shape of the church 
assumed as basic to the complaint against him. Criticisms issued against Barth’s 
ecclesiology focus on the centrality he attributes to Christian witness, that is, 
his account of the church is not sufficient to the action of witness he deems as 
central. To quote Hans Urs von Balthasar, without some account of its being as a 
“concrete reality in the world,” the church cannot “bear witness to the presence of 
faith and revelation in the world.” 14 To suggest that Barth’s critics share an under¬ 
standing of the form of the church is not to suggest that they espouse a common 
ecclesiology. They do not. They are united, however, in consigning the mission¬ 
ary act to only a marginal function within an otherwise defined “visible” church. 

13 Barth, CD IV/3.1, 79. 

14 Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth: Exposition and Interpretation (San 
Francisco: Ignatius, 1992), 245. 


The Resurrection from the Dead 

Missionary proposals, by extension, are seen as theologically insubstantial, as not 
of material significance for questions of church order and institutional structuring. 

One might illustrate this contention by reference to Wolfhart Pannenberg’s essay 
titled “The Significance of Eschatology for an Understanding of the Apostolicity 
and Catholicity of the Church.” 15 His controlling assumption is that the particu¬ 
lar apostolic period cannot be accepted as the norm for the church following the 
apostles. After demonstrating the various difficulties with accounts located in 
both “lineal continuity” and the canon, Pannenberg proposes that the eschato¬ 
logical is both distinctive to, and continuing beyond, the historical boundary of 
the apostolic period. 16 The church is apostolic, not simply due to its historical 
origins in the apostolic message, but in continuing the apostolic orientation to 
the future kingdom of God through history. The church achieves this precisely in 
changing its historical forms in service to the declaration of the finality of Jesus 
Christ, his sufficiency in answering the questions of all periods and places. 

The ultimate reality of Jesus Christ’s message was found in his person alone. 
With his death, resurrection, and ascension, the apostles made his message effec¬ 
tive for their age through the world mission of the church. That is, the apostles 
remained faithful to the good news of the kingdom by changing the shape of its 
expression. To quote, it was “precisely through this transformation of its form 
that the message remained the same.” 17 The apostolic mission pointed to the 
completion of the eschatological promise of God’s coming kingdom. “The pres¬ 
ent power of God’s future lordship in the teaching and mission of Jesus finds its 
apostolic counterpart in the universal mission to all nations.” 18 It is not the mis¬ 
sionary form that is important, but the continuous free invention of new forms as 
shaped in service to gospel proclamation. 

As the apostles continued their message though this missionary form, so the 
church is apostolic by itself changing the form of the message. Continuity 
consists in the setting forth of the finality of the truth of Jesus Christ. This is not 
a backwards-looking continuity based in the repetition of traditional forms; it is 
a proclamatory event speaking to present experience. 19 The formulas of Chalce- 
don, by way of example, were apostolic because they gave “clear expression to 
the unsurpassed, final truth of the incarnation of Jesus Christ and do so in a way 

15 Wolfhart Pannenberg, “The Significance of Eschatology for Understanding the Apostolicity 
and Catholicity of the Church,” in The Church (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970), 44-68. 

16 Ibid., 48. 

17 Ibid., 52. 

18 Ibid.. 51. 

19 Ibid., 53. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

that is valid in the language of their time.” 20 Through the history of the church, 
the “apostolic motif’ has been retained in “the progressive doctrinal clarification 
of the finality of Jesus.” 21 This leads Pannenberg sequentially into the language 
of catholicity and a discussion of forms of doctrine, church order, tradition and 
liturgy. Pannenberg thus retains the language of mission, along with a declara¬ 
tive sensibility. However, although he is not against an expansive account of 
mission, the “church” is a body that comes to being, and is faithful to its apos¬ 
tolic origins, by changing from the apostolic form of missionary expansion. This 
form itself becomes a vestige of the apostolic period. 

Pannenberg’s position has much to commend it. It enables “the church to be free 
to live in its own historicity as opposed to that of the apostolic age and still remain 
in continuity with the mission of the apostles.” 22 He permits institutional mobility 
and a sense of theological provisionally in service to the standard of the “mission 
of Christianity in the world.” 23 An open and generous ecclesiology results: space 
exists for a diversity of institutions within the church catholic without compromis¬ 
ing both the necessity of identifiable structures and the inclusion of the relation¬ 
ship to the world as informative of those structures. The church must speak its 
message into its contemporary context and frame its life affording to this act. 

The problem is that the ecclesial continuity of the apostolic mission consists in 
changingyrow the missionary form. The very moment of the church’s establish¬ 
ment is the very moment when it became structurally nonmissionary. Missionary 
mobility ceased to be a structuring element in the life of the church and its order. 

A potential confusion arises at this point. The term “nonmissionary” does not 
indicate the absence of missions. It is not that the act of missionary sending ended 
with the establishment of the church. The marginalization of mission as nones¬ 
sential to the structures of the church mandates both a particular definition of 
Christian being and the configuration of institutions in service to this end, and a 
determined and frenetic form of mission method. Catholic theologian Brino Forte 
puts the matter this way. With the presumed completion of the apostolic mission, 
confirmed by the pact between church and empire, the eschatological tension 
that drove the external movement of the early church settled within the church. 
With the gospel already having reached the ends of the world, “it should now be 
proclaimed and celebrated above all in favor of the spiritual and liturgical life of 

20 Ibid. 

21 Ibid., 54-55. 

22 Ibid, 57. 

23 Ibid, 59. 


The Resurrection from the Dead 

the Christians. In such a way, the specific missionary activity of the community 
passes from the center to the margins of the ecclesiastical self-consciousness.” 24 
The church drew the eschatological mission of the apostles into itself and thereby 
posited itself as the mediator of salvation. 25 Pastoral activity became the “nor¬ 
mal” activity of the church, and this presupposes “a faith already preached and 
accepted, involves commitments and actions based upon the maturation of the 
faith of the believers, their sanctification through the sacraments, the defense of 
their faithfulness, and the promotion of their coherence with the faith professed.” 26 
Progression in these elements defined the nature of edification. Within this set¬ 
ting, the mission act is merely a contingent commitment, only made necessary by 
historical accident and shaped in correspondence to those precipitating conditions. 
Mission occurs in a rushed manner with “a character of ’decisionalism’ and of 
urgency, which will even concede to the use of violence,” and receives biblical 
warrant in verses such as Luke 14:16: “compel them to come in.” 

I propose that this expectation of a shift in form—from apostolic mission to 
established church—is foundational to the whole discussion. The assumption, 
long affirmed through the theological tradition, that the apostles had completed 
the missionary command, removed mission from theological consideration. It is 
self-evident that this will have significant and ongoing consequences for formula¬ 
tions of the church, for how it is understood to be “concrete” and “visible,” for its 
liturgy and life of worship, and for its conception of and methodology for witness. 

Barth does not share in this expectation. This, I suggest, is what differentiates 
his position and so exercises his commentators. He does not read the mis¬ 
sionary outpouring of the first witnesses as recorded in the New Testament as 
historically passe. He, instead, uses this to criticize mediatorial accounts of 
the church—present in Reformed churches as much as in Catholic 27 —and the 

24 Brino Forte, "'Historical-Theological Models of the Christian Mission,” 
iso-8859-1 (accessed July 15, 2011). 

25 See David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Mary- 
knoll: Orbis 1991), 210. 

26 Forte quoting Severino Dianich, Chiesa in Missione: Per una Ecclesiologia Dinamica 
(Torino: Edizioni Paoline, 1985), 87. 

27 Eberhard Busch, for example, notes that in establishing specific offices to proclaim the Word 
and administer the sacraments, for Luther, the “meaning of the church ... resides in its medi¬ 
ation of salvation, so that the idea of specific offices became the dominating concept in the 
doctrine of the church; this left the never displaced idea of the priesthood of all believers in a 
comatose state.” Busch continues, in reference to Augsburg Confession VII, that "'the specifi¬ 
cally Reformed component of this ecclesiology is how the specific office held in the church is 
concentrated on those two tasks and how the substance of preaching is redefined. In this notion 
that salvation is mediated by specific office-holders to other members there is no change at all 
from the ecclesiology of the Catholic Church.” Eberhard Busch, “Karl Barth’s Understanding 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

type of weight that becomes attributed to its institutions. Mission is structurally 
determinative for the church. It is such because this is the eschatological form 
demanded by the resurrection, and it is so demanded because it is the very nature 
of the triune God from and to all eternity. 

III. Missionary Witness as God’s “Simple” Being 

This claim for the missionary identity of the church derives from Barth’s under¬ 
standing of the living asymmetrical fellowship of the divine and the human. 
Barth structures his doctrine of reconciliation according to the hypostatic union: 
in IV/1 we see the true God humbled; in IV/2 we see the true human exalted. To 
this Barth adds a third element: in IV/3 we see the history of the living unity of 
the true God-true human, Jesus Christ as the true witness. These three are alter¬ 
nately discussed according to the offices of priest, king, and prophet. Though 
commentators acknowledge their formal unity, attention often rests on the first 
two—the offices of priest and king—their relation to the two hypostates as, 
respectively, the divine humbled and the human exalted, and their significance 
for the human in justification and sanctification. The third element of witness 
would seem to be relative and provisional, not of material significance for under¬ 
standing the nature of the divine-human relationship. For Douglas Farrow, wit¬ 
ness is but a “lateral movement.” 28 Its significance for the human—the event of 
calling—is, to quote George Hunsinger, but the “existential” implication of the 
“objective aspects of salvation.” 29 This establishes a relative priority, whereby 
witness is seen as the penultimate, and eternal life as the ultimate, form of fel¬ 
lowship. Witness as a matter of declaring, and eternal life as one of enjoying, the 
salvation accomplished in and by Jesus Christ. Witness consists of fellowship 
with Jesus Christ in his prophetic work; eternal life, of fellowship with him in 
his royal work. 30 

Witness is a penultimate event because it is limited to the time before the final 
parousia, before the final manifestation of the kingdom of God. As simply the 
act of declaring the salvation completed in Jesus Christ, it is not itself material 
to that salvation. It is a provisional act, related to, but at some distance from, the 
actual nature of eternal life, and so from human fellowship with the divine. 

of the Church as Witness,” St. Luke's Journal of Theology 33, no. 2 (1990): 89. 

28 Douglas Farrow, “Karl Barth on the Ascension: An Appreciation and Critique,” International 
Journal of Systematic Theology 2, no. 2 (2000): 128. 

29 George Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology (New York: Oxford 
University, 1991), 155. 

30 Ibid., 181. 


The Resurrection from the Dead 

Drawing on this variety of interpretation, Joseph Mangina orders the offices in 
relation to the Easter event. Before the resurrection, Jesus finished his work as 
priest and king; after the resurrection, he initiates his prophetic ministry . 31 With 
this division, Mangina argues that Barth is “tempted to offer a totalizing inter¬ 
pretation of the cross that threatens to render superfluous Jesus’ appearances to 
his disciples .” 32 The two offices of priest and king are theologically decisive. 

The calling to witness is participation in the prophetic office which itself—as 
declaration—seems external to the completing of reconciliation. Jesus Christ’s 
appearance to the disciples becomes superfluous because Barth fails to delin¬ 
eate the resurrection as “an act by which those once dead are given new life in 
hope .” 33 His ecclesiology lacks substance because it is located in this completion 
and beyond the act of Jesus Christ as priest and king. His exalting of “protol- 
ogy over eschatology,” according to Mangina, is guilty of “dehistoricizing the 
church .” 34 

Mangina here provides a ready illustration of how relativizing the prophetic 
office blinds readers to Barth’s missionary definition of the historical church. 

The seemingly penultimate status of witness alongside the eternal enjoyment of 
salvation comes to mean that those called by Christ have only a limited present 
experience of salvation as expressed in an empirical church body. 

For Barth, humiliation and exaltation are not to be conceived as sequential 
historical events—but neither is witness. The unity of humiliation and exaltation 
takes the historical form of witness. In terms of material significance, Barth is 
clear: the priestly and kingly offices constitute the living history of fellowship 
of the man Jesus Christ. Nothing further accrues to the nature of this fellow¬ 
ship, nor do the two natures resolve into a third. By this measure, the prophetic 
office does not constitute a “further development of our material knowledge 
of the event of reconciliation .” 35 To be faithful to the two natures, it is neces¬ 
sary to give due attention to each in turn; to describe one, not in independence 
from the other, but as though one were in the foreground in sharp focus and the 
other in the soft background. This, however, is not itself sufficient: the two must 
be described in their operation, in their unity. Barth, as such, posits the third 
Christological aspect of witness as “at once the simplest and the highest. It is the 
source of the two first, and it comprehends them both. As the God who humbles 
Himself and therefore reconciles human being with Himself, and as the human 

31 Mangina, “Bearing the Marks of Jesus,” 275. 

32 Ibid., 276. 

33 Ibid., 277. 

34 Ibid. 

35 Barth, CD IV/3.1, 7. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

exalted by God and therefore reconciled with Him, as the One who is very God 
and very human in this concrete sense, Jesus Christ Himself is one .” 36 

Witness is the living history > of the divine-human encounter “in its unity and 
completeness , the viewing of Jesus Christ Himself, in whom the two lines 
cross .” 37 As the living history of the divine and human fellowship takes the form 
of witness, so any failure to treat witness as substantive constitutes a failure to 
understand the nature of the fellowship itself. 

It seems odd, at first hearing, to describe witness as the “simplest” and the 
“highest,” as the “source” of God’s humiliation and the human’s exaltation. It is 
so until we understand the particular relation of the prophetic office to the resur¬ 
rection. It is possible, due to the very weight Barth gives the prophetic office in 
postresurrection history, to understand Mangina’s positing of the priestly and 
kingly offices over against the prophetic. However, as Barth rejects positing the 
offices in terms of a simple historical sequence, so the action of the prophetic 
office does not simply begin with the resurrection . 38 Jesus Christ’s witnessing 
to the Father in his mission, the culmination of which is the cross, is already 
the exercise of his prophetic office as the character of the living unity of the 
divine and the human. Jesus Christ was already a witness to the Father prior to 
his death. The resurrection adds nothing material to the work of the cross. “His 
work, His being and action, were not augmented by His resurrection. How could 
they be? His work was finished .” 39 The event of the resurrection and ascen¬ 
sion add only this, Jesus Christ “was actually seen as the one who He was and 
is .” 40 The postresurrection life, in other words, is particularly associated with 
the prophetic office because here occurs the public revelation of the Son of 
God. With his resurrection, “His being and action as very God and very human 
emerged from the concealment of His particular existence as an inclusive being 
and action enfolding the world .” 41 This movement from concealment to inclu- 

36 Barth, CD TV/l, 135. 

37 Ibid., 136. 

38 Early in the Church Dogmatics, Barth does include an account whereby “the prophetic office 
at the first (Galilean) stage, the priestly at the second (the passion) and the kingly at the third 
(exaltation)” (Barth, CD II/2, 431.) This position he later rejects, ascribing it to “a lack of clar¬ 
ity concerning the inner relationship of the revelation of Jesus Christ and His work.” (Barth, 
CD IV/3.1, 15.) It reflects the “preponderant tendency to understand the relationship of the 
three mediatorial functions e ratione executionis, i.e., as that of different stages in the course 
of the history of Jesus, and therefore in a historical framework.” This change is further made 
in the context of discussing the missionary nature of the prophetic office. The prior approach 
denudes the missionary question, whereas the latter forces it to the fore. 

39 Barth, CD IV/3.1, 282. 

40 Barth, KD IV/2, 149 (my translation); ET, 133. 

41 Barth, CD IV/3.1,283. 


The Resurrection from the Dead 

sion is not a movement of abstraction from Christ’s humanity to his protological 
existence, but a declaration of what was already true of Jesus Christ’s particular 

That such statements become consigned to postresurrection existence, at some 
perceived distance from what might be described as the gravitas of God’s act¬ 
ing, results, I think, from a failure to understand witness as the “simplest,” that 
is, the nature of God’s own perfection. Focus falls on the priestly and kingly 
offices as belonging to eternity, with the prophetic office perceived as a relative 
and provisional act consigned to the time between the resurrection and Christ’s 
final coming in glory. This gives insufficient weight to Jesus Christ’s own life of 
witness as corresponding to the nature of God’s own perfection and the cor¬ 
responding completion of reconciliation. As witness narrates the oneness of this 
event, so it declares the nature of its perfection. The resurrection points back to 
the “absolutely prevenient ‘history’ which as the opus Trinitatis internum ad extra 
is in God Himself the eternal beginning of all His way and works .” 42 The resur¬ 
rection declares the very nature of God from all eternity. God is complete in and 
for himself. Nothing adds to his perfection. Nothing accrues to God’s being in 
his movement into the economy, for he already has an above and below within 
himself. Jesus Christ’s resurrection, in other words, reveals God’s missionary 
nature, for he reveals his active determination to be for and with the human. The 
active fellowship of the divine and the human in its unity itself witnesses to this 
protological reality. Likewise, the completion of reconciliation, as an act of God, 
corresponds to the nature of God’s own perfection: it is a superfluous perfection, 
a light shining in the world as Jesus was himself sent from all eternity and as the 
Spirit was breathed. The protological does not exhaust the eschatological; it deter¬ 
mines its form. Reconciliation corresponds to the missionary perfection of God. 
As the community of the resurrection, the church is itself missionary because it is 
called within this perfection and lives in conformity to the Son as empowered by 
the Spirit; it lives in the declarative fellowship of the divine and the human. 

IV. Missionary Witness and the Humanity of Jesus 

Though interpreters do not associate the language of mission with this move¬ 
ment, that the resurrection has for Barth this protological significance is noth¬ 
ing new. Indeed, it becomes a source of complaint . 43 To quote Nate Kerr, "This 

42 Barth, CD IV/3.2, 484. 

43 See Nathan R. Kerr, Christ, History and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission 
(Eugene: Cascade Books, 2008), 79-89. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

urgeschichtlich characterization of the resurrection has the effect of claiming an 
ontological ‘completeness’ for Jesus of Nazareth’s identity which abstracts from 
its inherent historical contingency and unresolved narrative limitations. ...” 44 
This complaint is illustrated by reference to the “almost complete absence” of 
any account of those “tragic complexities and discontinuities of this life,” such 
as Jesus’s temptation or his weeping tears of blood at Gethsemane. 45 These types 
of events are considered basic to shaping his “identity as distinctively human 
and limited by that humanity.” 46 Barth allows eternity to consume time and, with 
it, an account of historical and contingent humanity. Barth’s concern with the 
humanity of God provides a facade for an ongoing evacuation of the human. 

Let us grant the general concern for a more populated description of both Jesus’s 
life and the community called by him. However, the highlighted instances that 
supposedly narrate Jesus’s particular “humanity” emerge as moments of solitary 
struggle, occasions of individuated piety. What qualifies these moments as espe¬ 
cially indicative of Jesus Christ’s humanity? It would seem that the issue of his 
humanity is equally an issue of our humanity and, as such, an issue of the form 
of general human existence in relation to the divine. Because his humanity must 
correspond also to our humanity, this seemingly becomes distinguished from 
Jesus Christ’s “mission” of redemption as something belonging to his divinity 
alone. The New Testament admonitions that “no one has seen the Father except 
the Son” (Matt. 11:27; Luke 10:22; John 1:18; 6:46) maybe prompt an associa¬ 
tion between Jesus’s divinity and those historical actions that typify his mission. 
My suspicion here is that the identification of these “human” experiences corre¬ 
sponds to an assumption of human identity at some distance from the missionary 
setting of active human fellowship with the divine. That which is “ distinctively 
human” in relation to God occurs apart from the moments of missionary engage¬ 
ment, in the moments of quiet and earnest contemplative separation. The true 
humanity of Jesus, however, is not his humanity in isolation. The concrete exis¬ 
tence of the particular human being, Jesus of Nazareth, includes his being as the 
second person of the Trinity. His is a “being in a history. ... And what takes place 
in this history, and therefore in the being of Jesus Christ as such, is atonement. 

... His being as God and human and God-human consists in the completed act of 
the reconciliation of man with God.” 47 Jesus Christ accomplishes the reconcili¬ 
ation of the world in the living unity of the divine and the human. Such is the 
distinct nature of his humanity. 

44 Ibid., 83. 

45 Ibid.. 85. 

46 Ibid., 85. 

47 Barth, CD IV/1, 126-27. 


The Resurrection from the Dead 

To seek some particular account of Jesus’s humanity in isolation from his divin¬ 
ity renders his identity oddly abstract in relation to his own history because it 
fails to take his act of witness as determinative for his humanity. Assuming that a 
proper human relationship to the divine consists of these moments of composed 
distinction, and the attendant reflective practices, directs attention away from the 
nature of Jesus’s own witnessing humanity and its continuity with the “pastoral” 
structures he institutes with his disciples. David Demson is instructive at this 
point. For him, it is basic to the Christ’s identity that he “chose others to par¬ 
ticipate actively in his mission of making effective ... reconciliation among all 
creatures.” 48 This is properly part of Jesus’s prophetic office. It is not that “Jesus 
first enacts the good of humans on their behalf, accomplishing the reconciliation 
of all creatures, and then chooses his witnesses to proclaim this enactment as the 
content of their message. Rather, during the course of this enactment or accom¬ 
plishment he appoints and calls them, and only the commissioning or sending of 
them waits upon his accomplishment of reconciliation and his announcement of 
it. Ingredient in Jesus’ identity are his appointment, calling, and commissioning 
of the Twelve.” 49 

In this way the import of the postresurrection sending is not disconnected from 
Jesus’s life before the cross. The commissioning “includes and makes clear what 
was fully ingredient but hidden in the appointment and calling.” 50 Though it is 
hidden until its declaration in the event of the resurrection, the prophetic office 
is not sequentially distinguished from the priestly and kingly offices. This, it 
would seem, has direct consequences for forming the church in correspondence 
to Jesus Christ’s own acting, for the continuity between the missionary form of 
Jesus, his apostles, and the church of all ages. 

We could follow Demson’s treatment for a good distance but must content our¬ 
selves with a single observation: Jesus Christ’s humanity needs to be narrated in 
terms of his mission, because his identity is the dynamic union of the human and 
the divine, and this life is one of witness. Reconciled human life in Jesus Christ, 
by extension, is not humanity in isolation. It is a life in active fellowship with 
the divine, and it is the nature of this fellowship that it takes the historical form 
of witness. 

48 David E. Demson, Hans Frei and Karl Barth: Different Ways of Reading Scripture (Grand 
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), ix. 

49 Ibid., ix-x. 

50 Ibid., 6. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

With the completion of reconciliation, other human beings are called to active 
participation in the definite form of Jesus Christ’s own history. Peter, Paul, and 
the apostles are witnesses in relation to the action of God. This occurs because 
Jesus Christ is himself the true witness. This must remain at the forefront of 
our thinking because, for some commentators, Barth’s account of witness is all 
too human, functioning as a critical mechanism for maintaining the distinction 
between the divine and the human. Reinhard Htitter argues that, for Barth, “the 
one true Church can only exist as an event in which, due to the Holy Spirit’s 
action, the human witness fully coincides with its referent, God’s graceful elec¬ 
tion of Christ. Yet this event occurs under the condition of time only ‘je und je. ’ 
Only eschatologically in the full consummation of all will the Church coincide 
perpetually with its referent. And that is precisely when the Church as a dis¬ 
tinct community of witness will disappear because its vocation of witness has 
ended.” 51 

What Hiitter identifies is a supposed inconsistency concerning witness as the 
form of human relationship with Jesus Christ. On the one hand, the act of wit¬ 
ness describes the event of the church only as it lives in fellowship with Jesus 
Christ. Precisely as a fellowship, this relationship is not a given, but is depen¬ 
dent on the act of the Spirit. On the other hand, the act of witness will terminate 
in the final parousia as the fulfillment of human hope and God’s promises. One 
can indicate a proper provisionality of the church’s witness here and now: the 
hypostatic union is true only of Jesus Christ; the church is a secondary subject 
participating in Jesus Christ’s own history in the gift of the Spirit; the fallen 
condition of the church and its response of witness necessitate the continued 
prayer of confession and the submission to and celebration of the eucharistic 
feast. The nature of the church’s witness to Jesus, in other words, does not share 
the immediacy of the Son’s witness to the Father. Such distance is, however, 
not Hutter’s concern. For him, because witness ceases precisely in the fullness 
of fellowship, it does not describe the nature of that fellowship itself. The act 
consists of pointing beyond the church to the object of its faith that, perforce, 
exists at some distance from it. Witness bespeaks an undue disconnect between 
the human community called by Jesus and the event of fellowship with him true 
of human beings here and now. 

To affirm that the resurrection declares the living relationship of the above and 
below from all eternity is to undo this assumption of the temporal provisionality 
of witness. Witness characterizes the nature of God as he lives his own proper 

51 Reinhard Hiitter, ‘'Karl Barth’s 'Dialectical Catholicity’: Sic et Non,” Modern Theology 16, 
no. 2(2000): 146. 


The Resurrection from the Dead 

life. The protological is equally the eschatological reality. In the eschaton, 
human fellowship with the divine will not be other than that which is eternally 
true of Jesus Christ. The distance Hotter interprets as denuding human agency 
itself properly belongs to the act of witness. Witness is not the act of the human 
alone. As declarative unity of the two natures, witness is the action of the asym¬ 
metrical fellowship of the divine with the human. Precisely as a fellowship, 
the two do not act in isolation. While asymmetrical (the divine initiates and the 
human responds), witness does not merge one partner into the other but liberates 
both to act according to what is proper to their natures. With the final parousia 
our hope will meet its reality. This does not mean the end of witness but the 
perfected doxological participation of the human in God’s own life of witness. 

V. The Resurrection as Missionary Existence 
in the Promise of the Spirit 

The life of Jesus Christ, as divine and human, is one of witness. Reconcilia¬ 
tion’s completion corresponds to the nature of God’s own perfection and is, 
as such, missionary in movement, calling, upbuilding, and sending a commu¬ 
nity that lives in the resurrection. This missionary response of the community 
Barth depicts as Jesus Christ in the exercise of his prophetic office. For Jenson, 
however, Barth’s locating the gospel’s objectivity in the resurrection of the Son 
occasions the most “tortuous dialectic” in his Church Dogmatics , 52 Jenson seeks 
a fuller account of the Spirit with the concomitant form of Christian witness in 
which the church is itself the objective structuring of the gospel. The question 
of the Spirit is rightly the question of the objectivity of the human response to 
the gospel, the form of its missionary witness including its communal structur¬ 
ing, institutions, and practices. It seems to me, however, that the expected shift 
from the missionary apostles to the stable church mandates a certain form for 
the Spirit’s acting. Barth’s treatment of the Spirit does not follow this path. He 
offers an ecclesiological account of the church marked by certain freedoms in 
service to the missionary commission. Jenson interprets this as an avoidance 
of the church because Barth refuses to identify the Spirit with the church in a 
manner Jenson understands as necessary to Christian piety and the associated 
form of witness. The “necessity” has such force, in other words, that without this 
particular account of the Spirit’s acting, Barth’s ecclesiology appears absent of 
even the ordering elements basic to any human community. 

52 Jenson, “You Wonder Where the Spirit Went,” 297. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

What I think Barth achieves, apart from a more exegetically robust treatment 
of the Spirit’s acting, 53 is an account of the community with missionary move¬ 
ment basic to its structure. I do not mean by this that Barth places mission “at 
the center” of the church. Such suggestions often prioritize established defini¬ 
tions of mission over against established definitions of church. Mission, by this 
account, is characterized by an institutional mobility considered necessary to the 
proclamation of the gospel. It, in other words, is set in contrast to concerns for 
traditional church order and an account of witness located in stability, continuity, 
and maturity. Mobility and stability reflect two poles of mission method and are 
played off against each other (with the effect that discussions of a “missionary 
church” either make drastic and improbable recommendations or resolve the 
issue by reference to “leadership models”). Though it awaits population, what 
Barth initiates is a rethinking of church order shaped according to the mission 
dynamic of reconciliation. Stability, continuity, and maturity are reframed in 
terms of missionary movement because such are located in the transitioning 
activity of the Spirit. 

In like manner to the Christological architecture of the resurrection, Barth’s 
pneumatology in the doctrine of reconciliation includes a protological account 
determinative of an eschatological response. Barth begins his consideration of 
the role of the Spirit in the divine life with Pentecost in Acts 2, with the rush¬ 
ing descent of the Spirit from heaven and the endowment of human beings 
to be witnesses to the act of God in Christ. 54 The Spirit can so act, because, 
like Christ, this action is a repetition in our earthly history of what “God is 
in himself.” 55 As Father and Son, distance and confrontation, encounter and 
partnership belong to the divine life. This distinction is not one of separation, or 
of neutrality. The triune life is not one of “two mutually conditioning factors in 
reciprocal operation.” 56 The Spirit as the Spirit of the Father and of the Son is the 
“transition of this distance,” the unity of this fellowship. 57 The self-knowledge 
of the Father and the Son is penetrated, according to Matthew 11:27, only as the 

53 Speaking of the shift in the understanding of the church that occurred perhaps as early as the 
late first century, Bosch notes that the movement from a mobile ministry gave way to a settled 
ministry. Such a movement included a revision of the acting of the Spirit. “Whereas the writ¬ 
ings of Luke introduced the Holy Spirit particularly as the Spirit of mission, as the One who 
equipped the apostles (and Jesus) and guided them into missionary situations, the Spirit’s work 
was now seen almost exclusively as that of building up the church in sanctity. The work of the 
Spirit was above all to purify and illumine every soul within the church. The Holy Spirit was 
the Spirit of truth, of light, of life, of live, but there was hardly any consciousness of the Spirit 
moving outward to bring good tidings to a wider world.” Bosch, Transforming Mission, 201. 

54 1 am drawing here from Barth, CD IV/2, 339-59. 

55 Ibid, 341. 

56 Ibid, 345. 

57 Ibid. 


The Resurrection from the Dead 

Son chooses to reveal the Father. This is the opening of the partnership of the 
divine life to history, and this is the act of the Spirit. God is in himself “history 
in partnership.” 58 This means, for Barth, “before all earthly history, yet also in 
it, [God] is the One who is also for us (in His own history) transition, media¬ 
tion and communication, and therefore the One who creates and gives life, the 
answer and solution to our problem.” 59 As it is God himself who transitions the 
gap between the above and the below, “He Himself is the pledge that it is really 
bridged.” 60 This is the gift of the Spirit: the drawing of human beings into Jesus 
Christ’s own history and thus into the life of God. As God’s proper life is one of 
witness, so the human beings become witnesses by virtue of living in fellowship 
with the divine. 

As reconciliation corresponds to the nature of God’s own perfection, the proto- 
logical declaration of the Son in the resurrection and of the Spirit at Pentecost 
does not simply point back to a God cordoned off in eternity. The missionary 
determination of God’s own life determines the corresponding missionary nature 
of the Christian community. The ontological affirmation informs the nature of 
the present eschatological reality. Reconciliation as a completed act of God, and 
so both a fact and an event f means that Christian life in the reconciliation must 
itself form in the nature of this completion. “Reconciliation generally and as 
such, does not merely take place for itself in a special sphere closed off by the 
resistance and contradiction which it encounters. On the contrary, it takes place 
as it establishes Christian knowledge in the world and in and among the people 
who are reconciled in its occurrence.” 62 Reconciliation exists within the com¬ 
munity only insofar as the community moves out in reconciliation. There is an 
essential continuity between the internal and external moments of the commu¬ 
nity’s existence. 

“Life in the promise of the Spirit” means that the Spirit structures the church 
according to the realism of Easter. The reality of the resurrection came to the 
apostles in the form of the “ missionary command : ‘Go you into all the world! ’ 

It was for this that the Resurrected one appeared.” 63 Given the dominant depic¬ 
tion of the missionary response of the apostles as historically relative, and the 

58 Ibid., 344. 345. 

59 Ibid., 345. 

60 Ibid. 

61 For an expansion of this point, see John G. Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio 
Dei, Karl Barth and the Nature of Christian Community (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 

62 Barth, CD IV/3.1, 214. 

63 Barth, KD IV/3.1, 350 (my translation); ET, 303. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

coordinated reduction of mission to a command that occurs external to the 
essential structures of the church, it is here necessary to reassert the ontologi¬ 
cal nature of this eschatological orientation. To quote Barth, the “ ontological 
connection” between the human Jesus and human being takes the historical form 
of “the gathering and upbuilding of the community of those who acknowledge 
Jesus Christ... as a necessity grounded in Himself,” and “this community is sent 
out and entrusted with the task of mission in the world, again with a necessity 
grounded in Himself. Jesus Christ would not be who He is if He lacked His 
community, and if this community lacked, or was even capable of lacking, a 
missionary character.” 64 Jesus Christ calls, edifies, and sends the missionary 
community as himself the living history of the divine and human fellowship. 

The missionary form of this fellowship is no idle implication formulated beside 
an otherwise defined substance of reconciliation. There is no community that 
exists before the commission and that is only secondarily sent and so only by 
derivation gains a missionary character. The Christian community is a mission¬ 
ary community or it is not a community of the completed reconciliation of the 
world. Such is the nature of called human beings in active participation in the 
history of Jesus Christ. 

Reconciliation, precisely in this missionary movement of encounter, consti¬ 
tutes the communal nature of the church as “the gathered and self-gathering 
community.” 65 Negatively considered, the proper work of the Spirit in creat¬ 
ing witnesses does not “merely lead to the blind alley of a new qualification, 
enhancement, deepening and enrichment of this being of the community as 
such.” 66 Christian fellowship is no inward orientation occupied with reconcil¬ 
ing relationships for which the external witness forms as a simple gestalt of 
this relationality. Such a monologue places the church external to the dynamic 
asymmetrical giving and receiving of reconciled human relationship with 
the divine. This equally precludes any notion of “habitual having,” since this 
“would be a possession outside the divine giving and ... receiving at God’s 
hand.” 67 Nor should the church depict its life and configure its practices toward 
this fictitious end. 

Positively considered, the missionary dynamic of calling people to fellowship 
with Jesus Christ, to becoming witnesses in the active unity of the divine and 
the human, is as true of the community’s own public gathering as a community 

64 Barth, KD IV/2, 305 (my translation); ET, 275. 

65 Barth, KD IV/1, 728 (my translation); ET. 652. 

66 Barth, CD IV/3.2, 764. 

67 Barth. CD III/4, 763. 


The Resurrection from the Dead 

as it is of its gathering movement in the world. The act of witness is itself the 
indicator of Christian maturity, an obvious position if witness is defined as the 
living fellowship of the divine and the human. Edification occurs as the Spirit 
“draws and impels and presses” the community beyond itself, for it is “only as 
it follows this drawing and impelling [that it is] the real community of Jesus 
Christ.” 68 Mobility is properly part of church order, which is defined by Barth as 
the “upbuilding of the community as the attestation of the reconciliation of the 
world with God accomplished in Jesus Christ. ...” 69 Barth can thus conclude that 
an “essentially missionary” church is not an “immature, but mature, church.” 70 

Such an affirmation might be interpreted as reflective of a general disregard for 
the church in its empirical reality. One could indicate the remarkable free¬ 
doms Barth understands as belonging to the community in service to its active 
participation in the reconciliation of the world. 71 To do so might be interpreted 
as a further occasion of ecclesiological reductionism. But this is where Barth’s 
treatment of the Spirit comes to the fore. The transitioning role of the Spirit 
includes the unity of community’s structure in its outward expression. The Spirit 
is the “summoning power of the divine promise, which points the community 
beyond herself, which calls her to transcend herself and in that way to be in truth 
the community of God—in truth, i.e., as she bears witness to the truth known 
within her, as she knows herself to be charged with this witness and sent out 
to establish it.” 72 The transitioning of the Spirit includes the continuity of the 
necessary institutional practices in the outward movement of witnessing to the 
truth that these structures serve. Without this outward movement, the structures 
do not themselves bear the fullness of the truth to which they witness. Without 
the structures, the witness is not itself that of the community of reconciliation. 
The Spirit can be understood in close relation to the establishment of ecclesial 
institutions, but this is precisely in the mobility of missionary witness. Follow¬ 
ing the third Barmen thesis, the church proclaims both with its message and with 
its order. The ordering of church structures after the nature of reconciliation’s 
completion, as an expansive and declarative participation in Jesus Christ’s pro¬ 
phetic office, is the proper action of the Spirit. Given the questions of identity, 
institutional structures, community formation, and indigeneity occasioned by the 
rise of southern Christianity, Barth’s pneumatology appears to make a poten¬ 
tially robust contribution. 

68 Barth, CD IV/3.2, 764. 

69 Barth, CD IV/1, 678. 

70 Barth, KD IV/4, xii (my translation); ET, xi. 

71 Flett, The Witness of God, 280-84. 

72 Barth, CD IV/1, 152. 

Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

VI. Conclusion 

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a declaration of the very nature 
of God. God is the God for the human from all eternity and to all eternity. This is 
his glory. Such is the nature of God’s own perfection that his “becoming simply 
confirms the perfection of this being.” 73 That is, the resurrection from the dead 
declares the nature of God as he lives his own proper life: God is a mission¬ 
ary God. As the resurrection declares the nature of this God, so the resurrection 
propels this flowing out into the streets and alleys of the world: he is risen, he 
is risen indeed. In him, God completed once for all the reconciliation of the 
world. This completion corresponds to the nature of God’s own perfection. It is 
a becoming completion, a superfluous eloquent completion. Insofar as it is true, 
it must become true. The community called by him is to live in the realism of 
Easter, in the promise of the Spirit. Jesus Christ in the exercise of his prophetic 
ministry is the public revelation of who he is as very God and very human. This 
living fellowship of the divine and the human is a history of witness, not as a 
byproduct, but as the nature of that fellowship’s perfection. Jesus Christ calls 
other human beings as secondary subjects to participate in his own history. The 
Holy Spirit is the power of transition drawing the human community called by 
God into the fellowship of reconciliation, thus making them witnesses to the 
mighty acts of God in Christ. Far from protology exhausting history, the church 
receives a determined form. The community that lives in fellowship with God 
must correspond to the nature of God’s own perfection; it must correspond to the 
completion of reconciliation. The Christian community is a missionary commu¬ 
nity or it is not the community of the resurrection. Church structures and order 
serve this missionary commission beside which there is no other church. This is 
not to place mobility over against stability but to structure the church in cor¬ 
respondence to reconciliation’s completion. It is the transitioning power of the 
Spirit to maintain the unity of the witness known within the community of God’s 
reconciliation as this witness moves out in reconciliation. 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The cry of desolation is but 
the first word of Psalm 22. The last word is this: “Future generations will be told 
about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that 
he has done it.” m 

73 Barth, CD 1/1, 427. 



Miraculous Objects and Their Theorists: A Glimpse into 
Attitudes toward the Holy in the Late Middle Ages 

by Caroline Walker Bynum 

Caroline Walker Bynum is a professor in the School of Historical Studies at 
the Institute for Advanced Study and University Professor Emeriti at Columbia 
University. She is the author of many books, including Jesus as Mother (1984) 
and Holy Feast and Holy Fast (1988), which were instrumental in introducing 
the concept of gender into medieval studies. Dr. Bynum delivered this lecture on 
November 16, 2010, in Stuart Hall. 1 

.Abrades were an important part of medieval Christianity. Although Prot¬ 
estants in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries debated whether the "age of 
miracles” had ended with Christ’s ascension or with the triumph of Christianity 
under Constantine, most medieval preachers and theologians thought miracles 
continued into their own day. Readers of this journal will no doubt be familiar 
from European painting with the sort of miracles told regularly of medieval 
saints. They allegedly healed the sick, cast out demons, afflicted Christianity’s 
enemies with paralysis or other bodily ills, and occasionally raised the dead. 
Although the virtues of self-discipline, prayerful contemplation, and loving ser¬ 
vice of neighbor were also important, miracles were crucial signs, even proofs, 
of sanctity. 

In this essay, I do not want to talk about miracles generally. Rather I want to 
discuss a particular kind of miracle: the transformation miracle—that is, a 
miracle in which material or bodily stuff metamorphoses into something else, 
often remaining as such and becoming a place of pilgrimage or cult. Examples 
include statues that weep tears or change color, communion wafers and chal¬ 
ices that spill blood, body parts that regenerate, fragments of bone or hair that 

1 Much of this lecture is taken from my forthcoming book Christian Materiality: An Essay on 
Religion in Late Medieval Europe (Zone Books), to appear in the summer of 2011. 

DOI: 10.3754/1937-8386.2010.31.04 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

supposedly come alive, and bits of wax, stone, or paper that carry power across 
distances and bring about physical healing. I argue that such miracles became 
more common in the late Middle Ages (i.e., in the thirteenth to sixteenth centu¬ 
ries) and were an aspect of a general and increasing emphasis on the material as 
a place for encounter with and manifestation of the sacred. 1 also argue that such 
miracles were an opportunity and a problem for medieval Christians. It is those 
possibilities and problems—and the understanding of the divine and the material 
that lay behind them—that I wish to discuss here. But, first, a little more expla¬ 
nation of the types of holy matter I have in mind. 

There are four types of holy objects on which I am focusing in this discussion: 
images, relics, contact relics, and what German historians call Dauerwunder 
(lasting miracles). The first type—living or animated images—are statues or 
frescoes thought to alter physically or to come alive in response to the needs 
of Christians for reward, succor, or revenge. They are especially phenomena 
of the late fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, although the objects 
themselves often predate the moment of their animation by several hundred 
years. In Prato in north Italy in 1484, for example, a child supposedly saw the 
Virgin Mary come down from a wall to clean an abandoned prison. Crowds 
who flocked to the spot saw the image change color, weep, sweat blood, and 
open and close its eyes. Within a few weeks, the bishop authenticated the site, 
and a church was soon built around it. There are a number of contemporane¬ 
ous cases in northern Italy and in Germany, especially eastern and southern 
Germany. 2 

In some cases, cures were produced by such animated images at a distance 
through the simple act of an adherent’s prayer to the Virgin. But sometimes the 
power of the image was itself transferred by physical object. In the case of Mary 
of the Prison in Prato, pilgrim tokens—either woodcuts or little lead replicas 
of the fresco—were touched to the mouths or bodies of the sick and produced 
cures. Into the seventeenth century, engraved images of the Madonna of the Gar¬ 
den near Genoa were said to work miracles by touch. 3 Even in the early modem 
period (when pilgrimage tended to be stimulated by reported appearances of the 

2 On Prato and other Italian cases, see The Miraculous Image in the Late Middle Ages and 
Renaissance, ed. Erik Thuno and Gerhard Wolf, Analecta Romana Supplement 35 (Rome: 
“L’erma” di Bretschneider, 2004). For two German cases, see Euan Cameron, The European 
Reformation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 14. 

3 Robert Maniura, “The Images and Miracles of Santa Maria delle Carceri,” in The Miraculous 
Image, ed. Thuno and Wolf, 87-89 and 95; and Jane Garnett and Gervase Rosser, “Translations 
of the Miraculous: Cult Images and Their Representations in Early Modem Liguria,” in The 
Miraculous Image, 206-207. 


Miraculous Objects 

Virgin Mary), the focal point of devotion was usually a physical image (statue or 
painting) to which the vision supposedly pointed or an object (such as a stone or 
girdle) she left behind. Of 137 medieval and early modem Spanish sites studied 
by William Christian Jr., 111 commemorate the finding of an image or object 
indicated by an apparition; only fourteen are sites of the vision itself. 4 Moreover, 
images sometimes produced holy stuff to defend themselves or bring about 
cures. The tomb of Agnes of Montepulciano produced healing manna. In the 
fifteenth century at Neukirchen in Bavaria, a Hussite struck a statue of the Virgin 
in the head and it spewed forth blood in protest. The statue, with the sword still 
imbedded, was venerated for centuries. 5 

Images sometimes engendered or reproduced their own details. Stigmata— 
the wounds of Christ supposedly appearing on the bodies of the devout—are 
first reported in the late twelfth century. They are, of course, transformation 
miracles themselves, but what is even more interesting is the fact that they are 
usually depicted by artists as impressed on the bodies of saints not by Christ 
but by an object, the crucifix. In the numerous representations of the stigmati¬ 
zation of St. Francis of Assisi, the body that stamps Christ’s wounds into Fran¬ 
cis’s hands, feet, and side is a body that hangs on a cross hovering in the air. 
Even where the cross itself is not depicted, the Christ figure, with arms rigidly 
outspread and feet together, floats as if it is the carved corpus of the devotional 
object, and red or black lines connect it to the points on Francis’s body where 
it incises itself into his flesh. 

In what might seem a gloss on such depictions, the great thirteenth-century 
theologian St. Bonaventure described the event. Bonaventure tells us that, on 
a certain morning about the time of the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, 
Francis saw a seraph bearing a crucifix. And when Francis came down from the 
mountain, he “bore with him the image of the Crucified, which was depicted 
not on tablets of stone or on panels of wood by the hands of a craftsman, but 
imprinted (or impressed or stamped) in the members of his body by the finger 
of the living God.” In Bonaventure’s account, God stamps or imprints a crucifix 
in Francis, and Francis himself becomes a carving or inscription made by God 

4 William Christian Jr., Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain (Princeton: Princ¬ 
eton University Press, 1981), 15-19. 

5 For the rains of manna, see Raymond of Capua, “Life of Catherine of Siena,“ part 2, chap¬ 
ter 12, paragraphs 326-28, Acta sanctorum, ed. J. Bollandus and G. Henschenius, April, vol. 

3 (Paris: Palme, 1866), 943M4. On Neukirchen, see Horst Bredekamp, Kunst als Medium 
sozialer Konflikte: Bilderkampfe von der Spatantike bis zur Hussitenrevolution (Frankfurt am 
Main: Suhrkamp, 1975), 300; and Karl Kolb, Vom Heiligen Blut: Eine Bilddokumentation der 
Wallfahrt und Verehrung (Wurzburg: Echter, 1980), 80. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

in living flesh. 6 The passage is a literalization of 2 Corinthians 3:3, where Paul 
says that the Spirit writes “not in tablets of stone but in the fleshly tablets of the 
heart.” Whereas 2 Corinthians interiorizes the exterior carving of the tablets on 
Mt. Sinai, Bonaventure, so to speak, re-exteriorizes—or materializes—the Bibli¬ 
cal passage. 

The fourteenth century provides us with a more amusing story of holy reproduc¬ 
tion. According to the canonization process of Peter of Luxembourg (for the 
year 1388-89), a priest applied an image of Peter to the stomach of Charlotte 
of Bourbon, who was suffering a difficult labor. Not only was the child bom 
healthy but it also bore the features of Peter of Luxembourg as displayed on the 
image. 7 The theme of imprinting goes back, of course, to the Hebrew Scrip¬ 
tures (e.g., Genesis 30) and to antiquity, but the element of touch found here is 
unusual. The shape of the holy is conveyed not by simple seeing of colored rods 
or powerful faces but by actual physical contact. 

Three other types of holy matter—relics, contact relics, and the Eucharist— 
became important in Christianity before the period in which animated images 
proliferated so extravagantly. Veneration of relics—the remains of holy people, 
first the martyrs and, later, spiritual figures such as miracle-working monks or 
female visionaries—originated in the fourth century or even earlier. The practice 
flourished throughout the Middle Ages, but emphasis on the “bodiliness” of the 
remnants increased visually as well as theologically after the twelfth century. 

In the early period, relics were usually housed in jeweled caskets shaped like 
purses. In the twelfth century, containers shaped like churches became popular. 
These containers not only hid the fragmentation martyrs’ bodies might have 
undergone; they also evoked the gathered community of Christians. 

Over the course of the Middle Ages, however, actual division and distribution 
of holy bodies became more frequent. By the thirteenth century, relics came to 
be displayed in what German historians call “speaking reliquaries”—contain¬ 
ers shaped like arms, feet, a head, and so forth. The shape supposedly indicated 
that they housed body parts. Although historians now realize that arm, feet, rib, 

6 Bonaventure, Legenda Maior S. Francisci Assisiensis et Eiusdem Legenda Minor, chap. 13, 
section 5, ed. Collegium S. Bonaventurae (Florence-Quaracchi: Collegium S. Bonaventurae, 
1941), 109. On depictions of stigmatization, see Chiara Frugoni, Francesco e I’Invenzione 
delle Stimmate: Una Storia per Parole e Immagini Fino a Bonaventura e Giotto (Turin: G. 
Einaudi, 1993). 

7 Andre Vauchez, “Les Images Saints: Representations leonographiques et Manifestations du 
Sacre,” in Saints, Prophetes et Visionnaires: Le Pouvoir Surnaturel au Moyen Age (Paris: Albin 
Michel, 1999), 81-82. On imprinting, see David Freedberg, in The Power of Images: Studies in 
the Ftistory and Theory of Response (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 2-3. 


Miraculous Objects 

and head reliquaries often did not contain the part they “spoke,” they certainly 
emphasized a body part as part . 8 Crystal monstrances both manifested the 
bodily nature of what was inside (the devout could see the bone fragments or 
teeth as fragments) and commented on their actual or potential glorification in 
resurrection by surrounding them with incorruptible gold and gems. 

Especially in the late Middle Ages, stories were told of relics that—like 
images—came alive and even caused transformations. For example, the hairs 
of the early thirteenth-century saint Mary of Oignies were said to writhe as if 
living (although preserved apart from her body) and to cure the sick. 9 The holy 
woman Isabelle of France was said to have provided a new fingernail from 
the dust of her tomb for someone who had lost one. 10 In Naples, since the late 
fourteenth century, the blood of St. Januarius (a supposed martyr of the early 
fourth century) has been claimed to liquefy in early May and on the saint’s feast 
day in mid-September; on one occasion it supposedly stopped an eruption of Mt. 
Vesuvius. 11 To underscore my argument about chronology, it is worth noting that 
it apparently took the relic a thousand years to decide to come alive. 

A third, closely related type of holy matter—contact relics—was also important 
throughout the Middle Ages. The faithful revered not just bodies and body parts 
but also pieces of cloth, dust, or wash water from the bodies and the tombs of 
saints. For example, a nightcap knitted by Isabelle of France was revered as a 
relic. 12 

Contact relics of Christ and Mary (e.g., pieces of Mary’s mantel) were also 
revered, as were effluvial (i.e., exuded) relics (such as Christ’s blood and Mary’s 
milk). Indeed, associated relics were particularly important in the case of Jesus 
and Mary, because their actual bodies were assumed to be unavailable, having 
been taken up into heaven. In the early Middle Ages, the so-called “true cross” 
(i.e., the cross of the Crucifixion) was especially venerated; later, the sweat cloth 
and other instruments of the Crucifixion eclipsed the relics of saints. 

8 Anton Legner, Reliquien in Kunst und Kult zwischen Antike und Aufklarung (Darmstadt: Wis- 
senschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1995); Cynthia Hahn, “The Voices of the Saints: Speaking 
Reliquaries,” Gesta 36, no. 1 (1997): 20-31. 

9 Thomas of Cantimpre, Supplementum (to The Life of Mary of Oignies), chap. 1, para. 6-7 and 
14, Acta sanctorum, June, vol. 5 (1867), 574-75 and 577. 

10 Sean L. Field, Isabelle of France: Capetian Sanctity and Franciscan Identity in the Thir¬ 
teenth Century (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006), 135. 

11 Jean-Paul Roux, Le Sang: Mythes, Symboles et Realites (Paris: Fayard. 1988), 202-203. 

12 Field, Isabelle of France, 167. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

Like bodily relics, crucifixion relics sometimes underwent periodic transforma¬ 
tion. In the Greek Church, for example, stories were told of thorn relics flower¬ 
ing at Passiontide. In the fourteenth century, the Italian holy woman Alda of 
Siena carved for herself a wooden nail to imitate a Crucifixion relic, and even 
this imitation relic was said to ooze sap as if it were alive. 13 

Effluvial and quasi-bodily relics, such as the holy foreskin from Christ’s cir¬ 
cumcision, Christ’s blood, and Mary’s milk, also reached new prominence in the 
late Middle Ages and worked miracles. Like the blood of St. Januarius, relics of 
Christ’s blood were reputed to liquefy. In the fourteenth century, for example, 
Pope Clement V granted an indulgence (a certificate of a certain number of days 
off in purgatory) to those who viewed the liquefaction of the blood relic at Bru¬ 
ges, which allegedly occurred every Friday. 14 

The fourth type of holy matter, the Eucharist, was treated throughout the Middle 
Ages as if it were a bodily relic of Christ. 15 Although theologians and ecclesiasti¬ 
cal authorities were sometimes dubious about the practice, consecrated wafers 
were buried in altars, along with and in place of relics. They were used in heal¬ 
ings and to authenticate oaths. From the twelfth century on, visionaries came 
increasingly to see the figure of Christ—sometimes as a baby or a suffering man, 
sometimes as mutilated flesh—in the bread and wine. Then, in the late thirteenth 
century, a new kind of Eucharistic holy matter became prominent, which Ger¬ 
man historians call Dauerwunder. We find stories of the consecrated bread and 
wine not only becoming visible flesh and blood to reward devotion or reproach 
doubters but also remaining as miraculous stuff. What is important to note here 
is that, in early miracle stories, the transformed stuff appears and disappears. 
Indeed, in the typical account, the celebrant, horrified, prays for it to revert to its 
original form of bread and wine. After about the year 1200, it lasts. 

Sometimes thought to be manifestations of God’s power and love, such Eucha¬ 
ristic miracles were more and more frequently seen as divine responses to abuse 
of various kinds, such as theft by criminals, conjuring by ignorant women, and 
ritual impurity on the part of priests. As they became more sinister, they also 

13 On thorn relics, see Michele Bacci, “Relics of the Pharos Chapel: A View from the Latin 
West,” in Eastern Christian Relics, ed. Aleksei Lidov (Moscow: Progress-Tradition, 2003), 
234-48. For Alda’s nail, see “Life of Alda (or Aldobrandesca) of Siena,” Acta sanctorum, 

April, vol. 3 (1866), 474. 

14 On Bruges, see Jacques Toussaert, Le Sentiment Religieux en Flandre a la Fin du Moyen Age 
(Paris: Librairie Plon, 1963), 261. On blood relics generally, see Caroline W. Bynum, “The 
Blood of Christ in the Later Middle Ages,” Church History, 71, no. 4 (2002): 685-715. 

15 Godefridus J. C. Snoek, Medieval Piety from Relics to the Eucharist: A Process of Mutual 
Interaction, Studies in the History of Christian Thought 63 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995). 


Miraculous Objects 

became bloodier; wafers were thought to turn into bleeding meat and chalices, 
to fill with blood and run over, staining altar cloths. Especially in certain areas of 
Europe such as Bavaria and northern Germany, Dauerwunder were increasingly 
anti-Jewish libels. 16 Communion wafers were thought to erupt in blood because 
they had been stabbed and fragmented by Jews wishing to test, or conjure with, 
them. Such hosts were understood as material objects by which Jews spread 
anti-Christian activity from town to town. They were even used in Christian 
judicial proceedings (ecclesiastical and secular) as physical evidence of Jewish 
misdeeds. At the trial of alleged desecrators at Sternberg in northern Germany in 
1492, bits of violated bread, the nails used to perpetrate abuse, and wood from a 
table into which the blood supposedly soaked were actually introduced as physi¬ 
cal evidence against the accused. Thus, in the same period in which statues and 
wall paintings were thought to come alive in order to bestow benefits or protest 
abuse, other physical objects such as relics and consecrated wafers began in new 
and more literal ways to announce the holy within them. 

All this made learned theologians quite uneasy. To put it simply, theologians 
were caught. On the one hand, there was the danger of idolatry. After all, the 
second commandment said quite clearly: “Thou shalt not make to thyself a 
graven thing” (Exod. 20.4-5). On the other hand, there were the doctrines of 
creation, incarnation, and bodily resurrection, which asserted the possibility of 
sacred presence in matter. Hence, theologians tended to talk out of both sides of 
their mouths about the increasing materiality of Christian devotion. 

Some struggled to avoid the suggestion that images could in any sense depict the 
sacred. Images were, they argued, mere signs pointing to an exemplar; they were 
only triggers that directed the attention of the faithful to an ultimately tm-seeable 
divine. Some spiritual advisers counseled against overreliance on images, and 
dissident groups (such as Lollards and Hussites) went so far as to reject or even 
smash statues, their very violence suggesting how seductive the highly tactile art 
of the late Middle Ages could be. 17 Yet university theologians attacked Lollard 

16 Peter Browe, “Die Hostienschandungen der Juden im Mittelalter,” Romische Quartalschrift 
34, no .4 (1926): 67-97; Miri Rubin, Gentile Tales: The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval 
Jews (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004). 

17 William R. Cook, “The Question of Images and the Hussite Movement in Prague,” Cristian- 
esimo nella Storia: Ricerche Storiche, Esegetiche, Teologiche 3 (1982): 329—42; Thomas A. 
Fudge, “The ‘Crown’ and the ‘Red Gown’: Hussite Popular Religion,” in Popular Religion in 
Germany and Central Europe, 1400-1800, ed. Robert W. Scribner and Trevor Johnson (New 
York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 38-57; Margaret Aston, England's Iconoclasts, vol. 1, Laws 
against Images (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), esp. chap. 4; and Sarah Stanbury, 

The Visual Object of Desire in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylva¬ 
nia Press, 2008). 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

and Hussite iconoclasm even more vehemently than they castigated the credu¬ 
lity of popular image devotion; confessors increasingly taught their advisees to 
meditate before both actual religious objects and visualizations in the mind’s 
eye; popes gave indulgences to those who visited miraculous images. 

Images are not the only matter about which theologians were ambivalent. They 
jumped through intellectual hoops to mitigate other implications of the idea 
that the holy was instantiated in matter. The great thirteenth-century theologian 
Thomas Aquinas, for example, explained that a relic is not the living body of 
the saint, “on account of its difference of form.” That is, the relic is no longer 
informed by the saint’s soul (which is in heaven). Like an image, a relic should 
be venerated for that toward which it points—in this case, not the saint at all but 
God, who works wonders through it. Yet a relic is the saint, says Aquinas, “by 
identity of matter, which is destined to be reunited with its form.” 18 In honor¬ 
ing bits of saints, we revere physical stuff that will be reassembled, resurrected, 
animated, and glorified at the end of time. In other words, the relic both is and is 
not the saint. 

Aquinas and some who followed him held that there could not be bodily or 
quasi-bodily relics of Christ, such as the holy foreskin or vials of his blood. 
Christ’s whole body had already ascended into heaven; hence no part could be 
left behind without threatening his perfection. But a number of other theologians 
defended such relics. They maintained that Christ could have left bits of his 
blood or flesh behind as traces to stir up enthusiasm at times of crisis or luke¬ 
warm religiosity. Moreover, the late Middle Ages saw popular enthusiasm for 
the sort of effluvial relics these theologians defended. A number of visionaries 
and devotional writers revered with special intensity such somatic presences. 
Pope Innocent III explicitly refused to doubt the foreskin relic, and later popes 
supported it with indulgences. 

Dauerwunder presented even more of a conundrum. Some scholastic writers 
went so far as to argue that the body and blood of Christ could never be seen. 
“Transubstantiation” as an explanation of Eucharistic change had been required 
at the Fourth Lateran Council in the year 1215, and “transubstantiation” meant 
that only the substance of the elements (what they were by definition) changed; 
the accidents (i.e., the appearance) remained the same. Hence, if an individual or 

18 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, part 4 (part 3), question 25, article 6, in 5. Thomae 
Aquinatis Opera Omnia, ed. Roberto Busa, 7 vols. (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Hol- 
zboog, 1980), vol. 2, 808-809. See also ibid., part 4 (part 3). question 15, article 10, objection 
3, vol. 2, 794. 


Miraculous Objects 

even a group saw a host or a communion cup change to blood or flesh, they were 
not (according to this theory) seeing what was really there. For essence or sub¬ 
stance is not seeable; what is seeable is accidents. Appearances in the Eucharist, 
whether transient or long-lasting, must be—if not illusions or frauds—either the 
result of special miracles worked by God in the imaginations of viewers or new 
“red things” created in bread and cup to enhance faith. 19 

Moreover, from the Carolingian period to the end of the Middle Ages, there were 
spiritual writers for whom presence was experienced and authenticated exactly 
by its spiritual inwardness, not its physical “graspability.” The author of the early 
fourteenth-century devotional dialogue Schwester Katrei, for example, remarked 
that if we were really to see God in the Eucharist, it would break our eyes. 20 A 
number of theologians and devotional writers hypothesized that God had chosen 
to hide Eucharistic presence in bread and wine exactly because of a natural human 
horror at blood. Nor was skepticism about the literal presence of the divine in mat¬ 
ter limited to intellectuals and contemplatives. There were ordinary Christians, too, 
who doubted the more extravagant claims for Dauerwunder, and not only because 
they suspected fraud. We find pilgrimage accounts from the late Middle Ages in 
which travelers expressed doubts about the claims of shrine attendants both to the 
possession of miraculous objects and to the healings they supposedly produced. 

Yet all orthodox theologians agreed that the holy could appear in matter. After 
consecration, the Eucharistic elements were not only signs or mementoes. They 
were Christ: Christ human and Christ divine. Visionary nuns might be accused 
of hysteria or of faking specific revelations. Individual local pastors might be 
convicted of fabricating Dauerwunder in order to promote pilgrimage and gamer 
revenues. But it was hard to reject all arguments for the authenticity of Eucha¬ 
ristic visions and miracles. The real presence of Christ in consecrated wafer 
and cup could not—at least not without coming under suspicion of heresy—be 
denied. Hence, if Christ were really present, an omnipotent God could surely 
signal or manifest this in a variety of ways, sometimes quite shocking and literal. 

As I hope this exposition has suggested, the holy matter that proliferated in pres¬ 
ence and in visibility in Europe in the later Middle Ages was both an opportu¬ 
nity and a problem. For lay people, cloistered monks and nuns, and many local 

19 Peter Browe, “Die scholastische Theorie der eucharistischen Verwandlungswunder,” Theolo- 
gische Quartalschrift 110 (1929): 305-332. 

20 Cited in Barbara Newman, “The Visionary Texts and Visual Worlds of Religious Women.” 
in Crown and Veil: Female Monasticism from the Fifth to the Fifteenth Centuries, ed. Jeffrey 
F. Hamburger and Susan Marti, trans. Dietlinde Hamburger (New York: Columbia University 
Press, 2008), 170. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

clergy, it was an occasion for focusing personal piety, fomenting new pilgrim¬ 
ages, and refuting dissident critiques of established cults. But it was also a threat 
to ecclesiastical authorities who found it difficult to manage images, relics, and 
bloody Eucharistic wafers that might crop up, or erupt into new forms, without 
any official prompting. In what prelates, preachers, and polemicists wrote, it 
is clear that they often saw such devotions as a threat to the church’s control, 
despite their attempts to use them to foster allegiance to specific monasteries, 
dioceses, or pilgrimage sites. 

We cannot, of course, take miracle stories literally. This is not simply because 
we must bracket questions about their ultimate cause, but also because the 
stories were often composed long after the supposed event and for polemical 
purposes. Indeed, a surprising number of miracle accounts were made in the six¬ 
teenth century by Protestant scholars who exaggerated the miraculous in order 
to accuse Catholics of credulity. Nonetheless, the stories fall into broad patterns 
that are suggestive of social facts. 

Animated images were usually said to appear to people of lowly or marginal 
status, especially children, and frequently in out-of-the-way places. Eucharistic 
visions, received more often by women than by men, often functioned to point an 
accusing finger at corrupt priests and were frequently received when clergy with¬ 
held the sacrament or other sorts of spiritual comfort from the women. 21 Dauer- 
wunder were usually alleged to be the result of (either unknowing or deliberate) 
misuse of the wafer by servants, especially female servants, criminals, or Jews. 
Such stories suggest that transformation miracles were often occasions on which 
ordinary Christians claimed to come into unmediated and awe-inspiring contact 
with the holy. The stories also reflect occasions on which Christians did abuse, 
steal, or attempt to work magic with relics or wafers. At Zehdenick in northern 
Germany, for example, a miracle supposedly occurred when a woman stole a host 
to bury under her beer keg so her beer would be better than that of her neighbors. 
Blood bubbled up from the earth where she buried it and was collected by the 
faithful as a relic. When a similar miracle occurred at Halberstadt, the ecclesi¬ 
astical authorities tried to take the bloody chalice and cloth away, but the blood 
flowed again to protest being moved. 22 Such stories demonstrate both popular 
encounters with holy matter and resistance on the part of some ordinary Chris¬ 
tians to clerical efforts to manipulate it in order to stimulate or repress devotion. 

21 The classic work is still Peter Browe, Die eucharistischen Wunder des Mittelalters, Breslauer 
Studien zur historischen Theologie N.F. 4 (Breslau: Muller & Seiffert, 1938). 

22 Caroline W. Bynum, Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern 
Germany and Beyond (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), 53-54 and 58-59. 


Miraculous Objects 

Despite the important hints they give of sociopolitical context, narratives of 
transformation miracles are not transparent accounts. They were constructed to 
stereotype certain groups as impious, superstitious, or vicious. The way in which 
shrine attendants recorded miracles, or hagiographers and chroniclers wrote 
about saints, suggests that clerical authorities feared anticlerical reactions and 
projected those fears onto outsiders, scapegoating lower class women, working 
men, religious dissidents, and above all Jews. Behind some of the accounts of 
Eucharistic miracles lie pogroms and Christian efforts to find excuses for them. 

A number of reports of Dauerwunder from the late thirteenth to the fifteenth 
century are stories fabricated significantly after lynchings of Jews in order to 
justify the earlier events. By the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, such sto¬ 
ries were often circulated in preparation for judicial proceedings against Jews. 23 

The politics of transformation miracles were thus quite complicated. Whether 
or not they were anti-Jewish libels, the supposed animations of holy objects 
provided occasions for blame and persecution as well as for access to succor and 
healing. Not only did holy stuff proliferate; its very lability became a mechanism 
of accusation. I give a single example of the complex ways in which animated 
matter was problematic, both in its perceived capacity to reproach and blame 
and in its susceptibility to manipulation for ends pious and impious. This is the 
famous case of the Wilsnack hosts. 24 

The originating event at Wilsnack occurred in 1383 when three miraculously 
preserved and blood-spotted wafers appeared in the ruins of a village church after 
it had been burned to the ground by a predatory knight. Offered as a promise of 
rebirth to the community by its priest, and perhaps indeed connected with a local 
harvest festival, the objects triggered an enthusiastic pilgrimage that lasted more 
than a hundred years and drew a wide variety of people from all over northern 
Europe. Soon after 1383, however, the hosts were suspected by the authorities in 
Magdeburg of being a fraud. Conflict over their authenticity became the occasion 
both for sophisticated theological debate at several major synods and councils 
and for struggle over pilgrimage revenues, local peacekeeping, and other matters 
of secular and ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Archepiscopal authorities in Magdeburg 
opposed the prestige and power given the little church of Wilsnack by its pilgrim¬ 
age, but the bishop of Havelberg and the electors of Brandenburg adamantly sup¬ 
ported it. Arguments against the pilgrimage emanating from both the archdiocese 
and the university in Prague to the south erupted repeatedly in the fifteenth cen- 

23 Heiko Oberman, The Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Age of Renaissance and Reformation, 
trans. James I. Porter (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984). 

24 On Wilsnack, see Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 25-45. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

tury and were clearly, among other things, a contest between German and Czech 
nationalisms. Papal legations, led by such powerful figures as the saints Nicholas 
of Cusa and John of Capistrano, became involved. Criticism of the cult came not 
only from the highest levels of the church but also from a number of ordinary 
pilgrims who, in the accounts of their journeys, tell of faked miracles and ques¬ 
tion improbable metamorphoses (such as the alleged transformation of pilgrims’ 
staves into swords when the pilgrims were attacked by robbers). 

What I wish to call attention to here is not only the political maneuvering of the 
many parties involved but also the arguments that were mounted for and against the 
hosts for over a hundred years after their supposed appearance. The most virulent 
phase of the controversy occurred in the 1440s. In addition to asserting that the 
former priest (now deceased) had orchestrated the miracle—a charge that invited, 
of course, the countercharge that opponents had lied about the priest’s confes¬ 
sion-polemicists against the hosts claimed that there was “nothing red there,” 
either in 1443 when they were inspected or originally. The problem was not so much 
moral turpitude and manipulation by the priest, they said; it was that there was no 
miraculous matter at Wilsnack, only mold and spiderwebs. In other words, there had 
never been any transformation. From Jan Hus to Nicolas of Cusa, many theologians 
asserted specifically that what was in the monstrance was at most only a “colored 
thing,” not Christ’s blood; moreover, they saw matter’s tendency toward deteriora¬ 
tion as a threat not only to miracle hosts but even to ordinary consecrated ones. In 
a decree of 1451, the papal legate, Nicolas of Cusa, warned: “Transformed hosts 
should be consumed by the celebrating priest in communion rather than that the 
sacred Eucharist given to us as a divine gift for spiritual refection should be permit¬ 
ted to disintegrate through the corruption of the species.” But we note that even 
Nicolas of Cusa does call the wafers in question “transformed hosts.” 25 

And Wilsnack had its supporters, theorists as well as politicians. There were 
those who argued that Christ could have left blood behind at the resurrection; 
hence, it could appear on consecrated hosts. Indeed in a sort of desubstantiation, 
the blood on hosts could be present as accidents without substance, they argued; 
in other words, the substance of Christ’s blood could ascend to glory, leaving its 
accidents behind, and that (the accidents) was what the faithful saw in the host. 

To proponents of the miracle, such holy matter was useful exactly because it 
accused as well as revealed. One of the earliest stories connected to Wilsnack 

25 Adolph Friedrich Riedel, ed., Codex diplomaticus Brandenburgensis: Sammlung der Urkun- 
den , Chroniken und sonstigen Quellenschriften fur die Geschichte der Mark Brandenburg und 
ihrer Regenten, 41 vols. in 32 (Berlin: Morin, 1838-69), section A 2, document 17, 152-56. 


Miraculous Objects 

told of the miracle hosts bleeding again to ward off the injury of double conse¬ 
cration when the bishop arrived to say mass with them. A sixteenth-century theo¬ 
logian argued: miraculous blood cries out against sin and abuse because it was 
shed innocent. Or, as another polemicist put it, blood miracles are horrible, with 
a horrible message, because they are signs of God’s wrath at sin. 

Thus, as the case of Wilsnack makes clear, material miracles were both problem 
and opportunity for religious authorities, who wished to educate and control, just 
as they were both problem and opportunity for layfolk, who wanted access to 
God. Sometimes efforts to assert the cultural hegemony of orthodox Christianity, 
such events also sometimes involved—and were often feared to involve—resis¬ 
tance to ecclesiastical authority or to orthodoxy. Moreover, for both groups— 
authorities and layfolk—miraculous objects functioned to focus persecution, 
lynching, and judicial murder. Thus, holy matter was a tool in the deployment, 
and the questioning, of ecclesiastical and social power. 

But transformation miracles involved not only questions of power and control; 
they also involved questions of the meaning of human embodiment and its place 
in a material world. Behind claims to and belief in such miracles lay certain 
basic assumptions about the divine and the material. The first such assump¬ 
tion was the doctrine of creation itself—the belief that God made the world ex 
nihilo. If God could create, then surely he could recreate. All things were pos¬ 
sible to God. Thus, no medieval thinker completely denied miracles. Although 
Christian theologians did formulate an understanding of miracle as that which 
occurred above, beyond, or counter to the regularities of nature God also estab¬ 
lished, they continued the New Testament tradition of understanding miracles as 
“signs” of God or “holy works.” 26 Many followed Augustine of Hippo in seeing 
everything in creation as a miracle because everything is ultimately dependent 
on divine providence. Moreover, the doctrine of bodily resurrection at the end 
of time underlined God’s love for the matter he created. Incarnated in matter, 
Christ rose from the dead, taking matter to heaven; while still on earth he healed 
the bodies of others and resurrected them from the dead. It is therefore hardly 
surprising that the thirteenth-century theologian Bonaventure held all creation 
to be God’s footprints; St. Francis of Assisi saw the Creator in stars, birds, and 
even wolves; the holy women Mechtild of Hackebom and Margery Kempe con- 

26 For medieval definitions of miracle, see Caesarius of Heisterbach, Dialogus miraculorum , 
distinction 10, chap. 1, ed. Joseph Strange, 2 vols. (Cologne: Heberle, 1851), vol. 2, 217; and 
Thomas Aquinas, De potentia Dei, question 6, article 2, ra 3, in S. Thomae Aquinatis opera 
omnia, ed. Roberto Busa, 7 vols. (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1980), vol. 
3, p. 232 col. 1. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

templated God in a workaday donkey or a blade of grass. 27 Even those natural 
philosophers whose formulations point toward the rise of modem mechanics 
and astronomy never categorically denied the possibility of miracle. Nicholas 
Oresme, for example, who thought most visions resulted from indigestion, 
assented to the biblical story of the sun standing still for Joshua (Josh. 10:13). 28 
All through the fifteenth century, polemicists for and against effluvial relics and 
Dauerwunder made reference to the resurrection of the body at the end of time. 
Those who opposed Christ’s effluvial relics, such as Jan Hus, argued that he 
must have risen whole because we are promised integral and complete resur¬ 
rection; those who supported such relics, such as Johannes Bremer, argued that 
they were left behind exactly to give us visual evidence of God’s power for our 
future redemption. 29 

Belief in divine omnipotence and in God’s love for matter, manifested in his 
incarnation, was not the only assumption undergirding transformation miracles. 
Assumptions about matter itself were also at stake. And these were complicated. 
Following Isidore of Seville, the seventh-century encyclopedist whose etymo¬ 
logical definitions were the starting point for much later speculation, medieval 
theologians held that “ materia (the word for matter) comes from mater (the 
word for mother).” In medieval etymological thinking, etymology reflects ontol¬ 
ogy—that is, the structure of the word recapitulates the nature of the thing itself. 
Mater is in materia. Hence matter is the place of change and source of life. 

And as Isidore also said: “ Corpus [body] is called from corruptum .” So corpus 
contains cor-ruptio. Body is by definition that which changes. And to Isidore, 
body meant something closer to “thing” than to “living human being.” Cadavers, 
grass, wood, and stone were all bodies. 30 

27 Bonaventure, The Journey of the Mind to God, trans. Philotheus Boehner, ed. Stephen F. 
Brown (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993); The Book ofMargery Kempe: The Text from the Unique 
MS. Owned by Colonel W. Butler-Bowdon, ed. S. B. Meech and Hope Emily Allen, EETS 212 
(London: Oxford University Press, 1940), 69; Mechtild of Hackebom, Sanctae Mechtildis 
virginis ordinis sancti Benedicti Liber specialis gratiae, book 4, chap. 3, in Revelationes Ger- 
trudianae ac Mechtildianae, ed. the monks of Solesmes, vol. 2 (Paris: Oudin, 1877), 260. 

28 Nicole Oresme, Le Livre du del et du monde, book 2, chap. 5, ed. Albert D. Menut and 
Alexander J. Denomy, trans. Albert D. Menut (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968), 
book 1, chap. 7, 86; book 2, chap. 8, 363-73; book 2, chap. 25, 521-37. 

29 Jan Hus, “Questio de sangwine Christi,” and “Tractatus,” in Opera omnia: Nach neuent- 
deckten Handschriften, ed. Wenzel Flajshans, vol. 1, fasc. 3 (Prague: Villmek, 1903); Ludger 
Meier, “Der Erfurter Franziskanertheologe Johannes Bremer und der Streit um das Wilsnacker 
Wunderblut,” in Albert Lang et al. (eds. ), A us der Geisteswelt des Mittelalters (Festschrift 
Grabmann), Beitrage zur Geschichte der Philosophic und Theologie des Mittelalters: Texte 
und Untersuchungen, Supplementband 3 (Munster: Aschendorff, 1935), 1262. 

30 Isidore of Seville, Isidori Hispalensis episcopi Etymologiarvm sive originvm librii xx, ed. W. 
M. Lindsay, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1911), book 19, section 19.3-5, vol. 2 
[pp. 321-22] and book 11, section 1.14-18, vol. 2 [p. 3]. 


Miraculous Objects 

Moreover, the model of material change, inherited by medieval thinkers from 
Aristotle, was the process of organic generation and corruption. Although theo¬ 
rists did sometimes distinguish living from nonliving or artificial from natural 
(i.e., they had the concepts that enabled them to do so), they usually spoke as if 
all change was what we would call “organic” birth and decay. 

I take one example—that of alchemy—where the assumption is especially 
clear. When alchemical texts were first received in Latin Europe from Arabic 
sources in the twelfth century, theorists doubted whether the transformation 
of base metal into gold was possible. By the late thirteenth century they were 
beginning to accept the possibility and to theorize it. For example, when the 
theologian Giles of Rome was asked in an academic debate to consider the 
question whether human beings can make gold, the arguments he gave for the 
proposition included both the fact that human beings can make glass and the 
fact that Pharaoh’s magicians made serpents from staves (according to Exod. 7). 
Giles then went on to classify different forms of generation: horses from equine 
menstruum, bees from the decaying carcasses of cattle, wine from grapes, and 
gold from other metals deep in the earth. The difference, he said, was the place 
and form of generation. It is not so much the arguments for and against alchemy 
that interests me but rather the fact that what we would call normal physiological 
production (fetus from uterine material), what we would call spontaneous gener¬ 
ation (bees from decaying flesh), and what we would call mechanical production 
(glass from sand or—if possible—gold from lead) are treated as parallel cases as 
far as the production of body is concerned and that production is conceptualized 
as generation. In other words, all matter is treated as organic and alive. 31 

There is a great deal more we could explore about the sense we find in Aristotle, 
Isidore, and Giles of Rome that matter is fertile, labile, percolating, and forever 
tossing up horses, bees, glass, or gold. I do not have time to do that here. What is 
worth pointing out, however, is that such an understanding of matter gave those 
medieval thinkers who wished to do so resources for controlling the miraculous, 
but it also contributed to a sense of matter as that which might constantly erupt 
in transformation. 

31 Giles of Rome, B. Aegidii Columnae Romani... Quodlibeta revisa, correcta, et varie illus- 
trato, studio M. F. Petri de Coninck (Louvain, 1646), 147-49, cited in William R. Newman, 
“Introduction: Alchemical Debate in the Thirteenth Century: The Defense of Art,” in William 
R. Newman (ed.), The Summa Perfectionis ofPseudo-Geber: A Critical Edition, Transla¬ 
tion and Studv, Collection de travaux de l’Academie Internationale d’Histoire des Science 35 
(Leiden: Brill, 1991), 32-34. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

Building on the idea that matter was by definition changeable, some theolo¬ 
gians developed the theory that God had planted patterns of change (called 
seminal reasons) in things at the moment of creation. The idea that bodies bore 
seeds of other bodies they might generate or become was used by a number of 
intellectuals to explain transformation miracles or elucidate doctrines such as 
transubstantiation. It was an idea that closely controlled the nature and direc¬ 
tion of change, without naturalizing the miraculous completely. In the twelfth 
century, for example, several theologians gave the following explanation of the 
account of the wedding at Cana in John’s gospel, where Christ allegedly turned 
water into wine. There are seminal reasons in things that unfold in preordained 
time. Trees draw up water into grapes and make wine. If God speeds this up and 
turns water into wine without the intervening steps, we call it a miracle. 32 In the 
fourteenth century, a natural philosopher, Nicholas of Autrecourt used another 
theory of matter—atomism—to explain bodily resurrection, claiming that it was 
merely a miraculous version of the process whereby water could be vaporized 
into gas and return. 33 We find similar arguments in Nicole Oresme and Jan Hus, 
without the atomism. Such arguments used philosophical explanations of change 
to make transformation miracles extreme cases of natural events—cases whose 
mechanisms we can understand, although they can be carried out only by God. 

But the same sense of matter as by definition that which generates and decays 
according to certain regular and known processes contributed to a sense of all 
bodies as a flow of generation and corruption. And understanding matter under 
the template of generation encouraged the expectation that blood, motion, 
or life might erupt from deep within it. Moreover, people in the late Middle 
Ages—ecclesiastical authorities, intellectuals, and the ordinary faithful—lived 
in a world where religious objects were not the only matter that was thought 
to undergo and to cause stunning change. Theologians and scientists were 
fascinated by the study of magnets, which drew iron particles across space, 
and alchemy, which, as we have seen, claimed to produce gold by speeding up 
growth that occurred deep in the earth. Everyone accepted spontaneous genera¬ 
tion: the process by which decaying logs or bull carcasses gave birth to worms 
and mice. The stuff of the world was alive and dynamic, constantly coming to be 
and passing away. It is hardly surprising then that blood was thought to erupt on 

32 Caroline W. Bynum, Metamorphosis and Identity (New York: Zone Books, 2003), 92; and 
Dominique Iogna-Prat, Order and Exclusion: Cluny and Christendom Face Heresy, Judaism and 
Islam (1000-1150), trans. Graham Robert Edward (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), 195. 

33 Nicholas of Autrecourt, The Universal Treatise of Nicholas of Autrecourt, trans. Leonard A. 
Kennedy et al. (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1971), 101-102 and 141. 


Miraculous Objects 

wafers and statues, that images moved their eyes and descended from walls, that 
the bodies of holy people broke out in the wounds of Christ. 

Miracles of transformation presented practical and spiritual problems and 
opportunities to theologians, authorities (both secular and ecclesiastical), and 
ordinary believers who supported or opposed them. They raised fundamen¬ 
tal questions about who controlled the sacred as well as about the nature of 
the divine and the nature of matter. They were certainly not, as is sometimes 
said, all frauds, and they were often accepted only after serious debate or not 
accepted at all. But their deployment and their questioning was not only a mat¬ 
ter of power politics among ecclesiastics or between laity and clergy. The boy at 
Prato who saw our Lady step down from her wall like the Hussite at Neukirchen 
who attacked her, the alewife at Zehdenick who wanted to enhance her beer 
with the Eucharist like the theologian, and mystic Nicholas of Cusa who sought 
to keep Eucharistic presence unseen all shared a sense that the divine can and 
does appear in the material and that such manifestations can be salvific. Trans¬ 
formation miracles were occasions for the faithful to bypass clerical control and 
occasions for authorities to manipulate popular devotion; they provided oppor¬ 
tunities for ordinary people as well as elites to carry out horrendous persecution 
of outsiders and Jews. But they were also occasions for serious scientific discus¬ 
sion of natural processes and deep theological consideration of the nature of the 
holy. And they were places where, in a religion often stereotyped as world- and 
body-denying, traces of divine glory were found in lowly matter and ordinary 
human experience. ■ 



Witherspoon, Reid, and Scottish Philosophy in America 

by Gordon Graham 

Gordon Graham is the Henry Luce III Professor of Philosophy and the Arts at 
Princeton Theological Seminary. His books include The Re-enchantment of 
the World: Art versus Religion (Oxford University Press, 2010) and Ethics and 
International Relations (Blackwell, 2008). 1 

In an article published in 1955, American historian Sydney Ahlstrom wrote: 
“The Scottish philosophy is no longer in good repute despite its proud reign in 
another day.” Indeed, few, if any, schools of philosophy have been given such 
disdainful treatment by historians as common sense realism; and few, if any, 
philosophers have had to suffer such ignominious re-evaluations as did Thomas 
Reid and Dugald Stewart, who were once lionized as the founders of a great and 
enduring tradition. 2 

Fifty years later, the situation has changed once more, but only to a degree. 

In some quarters, the Scottish philosophy has again been credited with great 
significance for the intellectual history of America, whereas in others it remains 
almost entirely ignored. So, for example, Scott Philip Segrest’s 2010 study 
America and the Political Philosophy of Common Sense makes America’s inher¬ 
itance from the Scottish philosophical tradition key to “the American mind,” at 
least in politics and ethics. 3 On the other hand, the Oxford Handbook of Ameri¬ 
can Philosophy makes only passing reference to Reid and Stewart and does not 

1 This paper was prepared for presentation at the Eighteenth Century Scottish Studies Society 
Conference, held in Princeton in June 2010 and organized under the auspices of the Center for 
the Study of Scottish Philosophy at Princeton Theological Seminary. 

2 Sydney E Ahlstrom, “The Scottish Philosophy and American Theology,” Church History, 24 
(1955), 257. 

3 Scott Philip Segrest, America and the Political Philosophy of Common Sense, (Columbia: 
University of Missouri Press, 2010). 

DOI: 10.3754/1937-8386.2010.31.05 


Witherspoon, Reid, and Scottish Philosophy in America 

mention a single one of the people Ahlstrom identifies as the most distinguished 
philosophical exponents of Scottish philosophy in nineteenth-century America. 4 

The purpose of Ahlstrom’s essay was to throw some light on the question of how 
a philosophy so discredited in the twentieth century could have played such a 
hugely influential role in nineteenth. He found the answer in the relation of com¬ 
mon sense philosophy to Protestant theology. 

The secret of its success ... lay in its dualism, epistemological, onto¬ 
logical and cosmological... [which] facilitated an all-out attack on 
both materialism and idealism ... [and] ... made possible a synchronous 
affirmation of science on the one hand, and an identification of the 
human intellect and the Divine Mind on the other ... Scottish philoso¬ 
phers could thus be monotonously consistent in their invocations of 
Bacon and Newton and at the same time certify those rational processes 
of man which lead toward natural theology and even contemplative 
piety and away from relativism and romantic excesses. The Scottish 
philosophy, in short, was a winning combination; and to American 
theologians... it was an answer to a prayer. 5 

It is not hard to see how this sort of analysis would lead both to Segrest’s 
enthusiasm and to the Oxford Handbook’s indifference. For anyone who sees 
the American mind as crucially formed by its religious history, and is struck by 
the return of religion in recent American politics, the philosophical tradition, 
which was its original ally, will have special interest. For anyone who thinks that 
philosophy in America finally came into its own only when the connection with 
religion was severed, the historic connection with Scottish philosophy has little 
interest. This explains how it is that while Segrest devotes a whole chapter to 
Witherspoon, the index to the Oxford Companion does not list a single refer¬ 
ence to him. It has twenty references to Wittgenstein, however, a philosopher to 
whom Segrest never alludes. 

These are perhaps extremes. In between there is Kuklick’s History of Philoso¬ 
phy in America. 6 On Kuklick’s more measured account, Scottish influence was 
evident in what he calls the “collegiate philosophy” of the nineteenth century. 

But this period was only a little longer than the middle years of the twentieth 

4 Cheryl Misak, ed. The Oxford Handbook of American Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford Univer¬ 
sity Press, 2008). 

5 Ahlstrom, “The Scottish Philosophy and American Theology,” 267-68. 

6 Bruce Kuklick, A History of Philosophy in America 1720-2000 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 
2001 ). 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

century, when philosophy in the United States was being shaped by broader 
European trends. Accordingly, Witherspoon, Reid, and Stewart all warrant refer¬ 
ences, but only the same small number as Wittgenstein. So Ahlstrom’s question 
suggests itself again. How are we to understand the enormous vacillation in 
Scottish philosophy’s stock in America—not just over time, but contemporane¬ 
ously? My purpose in this short paper is not to answer that large question, only 
to throw some light on a topic that must form part of it, namely, John Wither¬ 
spoon’s relation to Reid and the philosophy of common sense in America. 


It would be futile, Ahlstrom says, to try to discover the first entrance of the Scot¬ 
tish philosophy into America; but since Reid’s Inquiry —the sine qua non —was 
not published until 1764, the honor of being the first real ambassador should 
probably be assigned to John Witherspoon, who left his native land in 1768 to 
become president of the College of New Jersey. 7 

In a more recent study, David Hoeveler reaches much the same conclusion. 
“Witherspoon’s instruction [at Princeton] begins the long ascendency of the 
Scottish philosophy in the American academic curriculum.” 8 In a somewhat 
similar vein, Jeffry Morrison holds that “by common consent Witherspoon 
was the principal carrier of the Scottish philosophy in early America.” 9 But he 
raises a doubt about the connection with Reid by quoting Ashbel Green, one 
of Witherspoon’s most devoted students and a later president of the College of 
New Jersey. Green had heard Witherspoon claim to have brought common sense 
arguments against Berkeley “before Reid and Beatty [sic], or any other author of 
their views, had published anything on the ideal system.” 10 This claim relates to 
an essay that Witherspoon published in the Scots Magazine of 1753. The essay 
was a response to Lord Karnes on freedom of the will and dates Witherspoon’s 
allegiance to the Scottish philosophy to at least a decade before the appear¬ 
ance of Reid’s Inquiry. If this is right, then the fact that Reid’s Inquiry was 
published around the time of Witherspoon’s move to Princeton is of no special 
significance, and in turn this raises a question about Ahlstrom’s sine qua non. If 
Witherspoon arrived in New Jersey a proponent of the Scottish philosophy but 

7 Ahlstrom, “The Scottish Philosophy and American Theology,” 261. 

* J. David Hoeveler, James McCosh and the Scottish Intellectual Tradition (Princeton: Prince¬ 
ton University Press, 1981), 123. 

9 Jeffry H. Morrison, John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic (Notre 
Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), 62. 

10 Morrison, John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic, 63. 


Witherspoon, Reid, and Scottish Philosophy in America 

ignorant of Reid, then Reid’s place in “the Scottish philosophy” can’t be quite as 
indispensible as Ahlstrom implies. 

In the light of these few facts, the argument could go one of two ways. We could 
take up the idea that Witherspoon was an early author of the Scottish school of 
common sense in his own right. This is not a very promising line of thought, 
however. As Mark Noll puts it, while “no one can question Witherspoon’s 
effectiveness as a public figure or an agent of institutional renewal,” on the intel¬ 
lectual level his achievement “turns out to be, both formally and materially, an 
illusion.” 11 “Illusion” overstates the case, perhaps. It is a matter to which I will 
return. But even Witherspoon himself, who published quite extensively, did not 
think his lectures on moral philosophy to be worthy of publication, in part no 
doubt because they seem to be outlines on which he expanded in class. Their 
publication after his death, it is plausible to hold, was in the main an act of piety 
on the part of his admirers. 

A second possibility is to reject Ahlstrom’s sine qua non and thus divorce 
Scottish philosophy from the school of common sense. On this interpretation, 
if Witherspoon brought Scottish philosophy to America, it was not a version 
that involved the special appeal to common sense that subsequently came to 
be thought its leading characteristic. This is an initially more credible account 
of Witherspoon’s role for at least two reasons. First, in his answer to Karnes, 
published in the Scots Magazine, Witherspoon says, “The ideas we receive by 
our senses, and the persuasions we derive immediately from them, are exactly 
according to truth, to real truth, which certainly ought to be the same with philo¬ 
sophic truth.” 12 

Here there is plainly subscription to an undoubted feature of Scottish philoso¬ 
phy—its commitment to the authority of empirical observation in preference to 
mere philosophical speculation. But this seems like empiricism without common 
sense. Witherspoon does not attribute a key role in reasoning to anything like 
Reid’s first principles. 

Second, while the published texts of the lectures that Witherspoon gave over 
many years at Princeton make frequent reference to Hutcheson, they make none 
to Reid. Segrest says that where they depart from Hutcheson, they do so in the 
spirit of Reid. This is not a claim that is easy to either refute or substantiate, but 

11 Mark A. Noll, Princeton and the Republic 1768-1822 (Princeton: Princeton University 
Press, 1989), 294. 

12 Noll, Princeton and the Republic, 25. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

it has to be observed that the shape and content of Witherspoon’s lectures follow 
Hutcheson’s emphasis on moral and social philosophy far more closely than 
they do Reid’s psychological focus in the Inquiry. Hutcheson is unquestionably 
a founding figure in Scottish Enlightenment philosophy. His moral philosophy 
was built around emulating the empirical methods of Newton and Bacon in natu¬ 
ral philosophy, and Witherspoon clearly followed him in this. Here, certainly, we 
find some common ground with Reid, though Reid’s source was not Hutcheson 
as much as George Turnbull, his teacher at Marischal College in Aberdeen. 
Turnbull appears to have developed a conception of philosophy very similar to 
that of Hutcheson, though more or less independently, and although Hutcheson 
uses the expression “common sense,” it is in Turnbull rather than Hutcheson that 
we find the seeds of the idea as it came to be developed by Reid. 

Against this interpretation there is this to be said: if the Scottish philosophy 
Witherspoon brought to America was basically Hutchesonian, then he was not 
the first to do so. In 1735, when Witherspoon was only twelve years of age, 
Francis Alison arrived in America, five years after graduating from the Uni¬ 
versity of Edinburgh. Alison was an Irishman who may have studied under 
Hutcheson in Ireland and probably studied at Glasgow as well as Edinburgh. 
According to Douglas Sloan, it is “to him must go the major credit for intro¬ 
ducing the thought of Francis Hutcheson to America.” 13 In 1755, Alison was 
instrumental in the creation of the College of Philadelphia (subsequently the 
University of Pennsylvania). He was aided in this by William Smith, a Scot 
who had studied at King’s College Aberdeen. Together they put in place a cur¬ 
riculum that drew heavily on the Scottish university model and in which logic, 
metaphysics, and moral philosophy figured prominently. Importantly, when the 
presidency of the College of New Jersey fell vacant on the death of Samuel Fin¬ 
ley in 1766, there was a proposal that Francis Alison be appointed in his stead. 
Had he been, we may assume that curricular changes there would have shown 
the influence of the Scottish philosophy no less obviously than they did under 


We should conclude from all this that it is not easy to endorse the view about 
Witherspoon and Scottish philosophy in America that Morrison says meets with 
“common consent.” Indeed there seems good reason not to, and even if we could 

13 Douglas Sloan, The Scottish Enlightenment and the American College Ideal (New York: 
Teachers College Press, 1971), 88. 


Witherspoon, Reid, and Scottish Philosophy in America 

save Witherspoon’s reputation as the one who brought Scottish philosophy to 
America, it could be only by severing the connection with Reid and common 
sense. This seems too high a price to pay, because it is common sense realism 
rather than Hutchesonian moral sense theory that played such a major role in 
American philosophy in the nineteenth century. Should we therefore also conclude 
that Witherspoon’s role in all this has been hugely exaggerated and that for the 
most part he can be dropped from the story? The answer, I think, is a qualified no. 

Among Witherspoon’s first students at the College of New Jersey was Samuel 
Stanhope Smith. Stanhope Smith was much more intellectually gifted than his 
teacher. After a short but distinguished spell at Hampden Sydney College in 
Virginia, he succeeded Witherspoon at Princeton, first as professor of moral 
philosophy and then as president, a position he held for over thirty years. It was 
he who turned to Reid and common sense. The lectures in philosophy that he 
gave as Witherspoon’s successor, and which he prepared for publication, make 
repeated reference to Reid and reveal a detailed acquaintance with both sets 
of Essay’s as well as the Inquiry. Nevertheless, Smith turned to Reid precisely 
in order to realize more effectively the intellectual and educational vision that 
Witherspoon had brought to the college. 

That vision had four elements. Students at Princeton were to be educated in 
science, true religion, personal virtue, and civic responsibility. In his opening 
lectures, Witherspoon lays out the connection between these elements: 

Moral philosophy is that branch of Science which treats of the 
principles and laws of Duty or Morals. It is called Philosophy, 
because it is an inquiry into the nature and grounds of moral 
obligation by reason as distinct from revelation. 

Noble and eminent improvements in natural philosophy, which have 
been made since the end of the last century, have been far from hurting 
the interest of religion, on the contrary, they have greatly promoted it. 

Why should it not be the same with moral philosophy, which is indeed 
nothing else but the knowledge of human nature? 

Moral philosophy is divided into two great branches. Ethics and Poli¬ 
tics ... Ethics relate to personal duties, Politics to constitution, govern¬ 
ment, and rights of societies... [T]he principles of duty and obligation 
must be drawn from the nature of man ... [I]f we can discover how his 
Maker formed him, or for what he intended him, that certainly is what 
it ought to be. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

The connection between truth and goodness, between the understand¬ 
ing and the heart, is a subject of great moment... [Tjruth naturally and 
necessarily promotes goodness. 14 

This educational vision was articulated by Witherspoon in his inaugural address, 
“The Connection and Mutual Influences of Learning and Piety.” Stanhope 
Smith’s inaugural address has a strikingly similar title: “Whether It Be Profitable 
to Connect Piety with All the Other Arts Which Belong to a Liberal Education.” 
Ashbel Green, another of Witherspoon’s students and Smith’s successor as col¬ 
lege president in 1812, repeats the same theme in his inaugural, “The Promo¬ 
tion of Science in Union with Piety.” Thus, we may safely say that Witherspoon 
established an educational vision for the College of New Jersey and so success¬ 
fully bequeathed it to those who followed him that it remained in place for over 
half a century. Indeed, it found a second wind when, exactly one hundred years 
after Witherspoon, another philosophically educated Scot, James McCosh, was 
installed as president of the College of New Jersey. Like Witherspoon, McCosh 
was an “evangelical” who sought to combine the demands of Calvinist faith with 
the intellectual values of the Enlightenment. 

Such an enduring influence provides powerful testimony of Witherspoon’s 
significance in the history of America and makes it sound odd for Noll to 
declare Witherspoon’s ultimate achievement to be “an illusion.” This judgment, 
however, reflects the thought that more than contingent circumstances, histori¬ 
cal events, and contrasting personalities were at work. There appears to be an 
intellectual weakness in Witherspoon’s educational ideal, an intrinsic instability 
between the elements. Those elements that he believed to be mutually support¬ 
ing are in fact mutually antagonistic. 

It is not my purpose to explore the truth of this contention here, or to identify 
the elements that generate the greatest tension. I wish only to suggest that, given 
this educational ideal, Scottish philosophy was its natural ally. This is chiefly 
because philosophy in Scotland self-consciously had a dual role: the combi¬ 
nation of science and pedagogy, or in modem parlance, the combination of 
research and teaching. 

For a very long period of time, one feature of philosophy in Scotland marked 
it off from philosophy in other places. This was its almost exclusive location 
within the universities. Philosophy in its different branches was part of the 

14 John Witherspoon, Lectures on Moral Philosophy, ed. Vamum Lansing Collins (Princeton: 
Princeton University Press, 1912), Lectures I and II. 


Witherspoon, Reid, and Scottish Philosophy in America 

standard curriculum of the Scottish universities for 500 years. When, over the 
course of the eighteenth century, the old system of regents gradually gave way 
to a professoriate (first in Edinburgh and last in King’s, Aberdeen), logic, moral 
philosophy, and natural philosophy were the titles of the principal chairs. This 
university base contrasts with the position elsewhere. Whereas Descartes, Leib¬ 
niz, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau were philosophers in their personal 
capacity (so to speak), Scotland’s best known figures—Carmichael, Hutcheson, 
Turnbull, Reid, Smith, Lerguson, Stewart, Brown, and others—all held uni¬ 
versity positions and made their living by teaching philosophy to successive 
generations of university students. The notable exception was Hume, of course, 
but even he was not a private man of letters by choice. He sought professional 
employment as a philosopher when he unsuccessfully applied for the chair of 
logic in Glasgow (in succession to Smith), then for the chair of moral philoso¬ 
phy in Edinburgh. 

It is important to note that while these people were employed primarily to teach 
philosophy (often in part from fees paid directly by the student), the academic 
year was structured to facilitate their own studies as well. Furthermore, in the 
eighteenth century students entered the university at a much earlier age than 
subsequently. This meant that philosophy’s educational role was accorded great 
significance and that practical ethics played a large part in the curriculum. “The 
mission of education in Hume’s day,” M. A. Stewart remarks, “was to train 
students for virtuous living in a society regulated by religious observance.” 15 A 
central part of the philosophers’ activity was to contribute to this mission, but 
another part was to contribute to human understanding. And as the works of 
Hutcheson, Smith, Reid, and Lerguson and Stewart amply demonstrate, many of 
them did this at the highest levels. 

It hardly needs to be remarked that this educational mission resonates power¬ 
fully with Witherspoon’s vision for the College of New Jersey as well as Alison 
and Smith’s for the College of Philadelphia. The Scottish Enlightenment and the 
American college ideal were deeply allied, as Douglas Sloan famously demon¬ 
strated in The Scottish Enlightenment and the American College Ideal. Stanhope 
Smith, arguably, was both the personal embodiment of this ideal and the one 
whose intellectual endeavors constitute the most sustained attempt to square the 
circle of piety and learning. Like Witherspoon, Stanhope Smith gave lectures on 
moral philosophy to the final-year students. His conception of the subject fol¬ 
lows Witherspoon’s closely: 

15 Marina Frasca-Spada and P. Kail, ed. Impressions of Hume (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 
2005), 12. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

In the philosophy of man the same rules ought to be observed which 
have been followed in natural philosophy ever since the age of the great 
Newton, with so much advantage to the science. 

Moral philosophy ... is manifestly a science of primary dignity 
and importance, as it is intended to unfold the principles of human 
nature, and bring us more intimately acquainted with man ... [I]t 
proceeds to investigate the laws of morality and duty in the various 
relations of life, and to cultivate the heart to virtue, which gives the 
supreme value to this, and to every science. Man it contemplates 
in his different powers and principles of action ... as a member of a 
family ... as a subject of civil government, as a citizen of the world. 

It unfolds his infinitely important relations to the deity; and endeav¬ 
ors to open his view on those immortal hopes which give the chief, if 
not the only value to rational existence ... The dignity and happiness 
of individuals, the prosperity of states, and the order and happiness 
of the world are intimately connected with the practical knowledge 
of those truths at the cultivation and improvement of which this sci¬ 
ence aims. 16 

“The cultivation and improvement of truths intimately connected with personal 
happiness and civil order” can serve as a perfect summary of the nature and 
purpose of the Scottish philosophy. 

Smith thus agrees with Witherspoon in essentials, but he differs in two impor¬ 
tant respects. First, he was much more actively engaged in the “improvement” 
of truth than Witherspoon, notably in his celebrated essay on physical variation 
among the human species. Second, his lectures drew extensively on Reid, and 
it was Reid’s conception of common sense that underlay the investigations in 
the essay. It is Smith, therefore, who brings Reid and the Scottish philosophy of 
common sense to prominence in America. Indeed, James McCosh, to whom the 
expression “the Scottish philosophy” is owed, held that it was due to the publi¬ 
cation of Smith’s lectures in 1812 that “the Scottish became the most influential 
philosophy in America.” 17 

16 Samuel Stanhope Smith, Lectures on Moral and Political Philosophy ; in two vol. (Trenton: 
Daniel Fenton, 1812), Lecture I. 

17 James McCosh, The Scottish Philosophy (London: Macmillan, 1875), 188. 


Witherspoon , Reid, and Scottish Philosophy in America 


Preserving the connection with common sense is of some consequence for trac¬ 
ing the influence of Scottish philosophy at later points in the development of 
philosophy in America. C. S. Peirce, for instance, claimed one of his versions 
of pragmatism to be a revision of Reid and Stewart into what he called “critical 
common sensism.” 18 But more interesting for my purposes is a rather different 
question. By Noll’s account, Stanhope Smith’s sustained attempt to give ade¬ 
quate articulation to a “Republican Christian Enlightenment” foundered because 
of an inherent tension between “piety” and “science.” If this is true, the general 
thought is hardly new and is unlikely to be contentious. It remains the case, of 
course, that there are colleges and universities in North America, some estab¬ 
lished recently, that expressly pursue the unity of piety and science, but for the 
most part, and across the world, institutions of higher education have abandoned 
any concern with religious instruction as being incompatible with academic 
objectivity. It is less certain whether the same institutions have also abandoned 
Witherspoon’s belief that the pursuit of truth naturally and necessarily promotes 
goodness, whether, that is to say, they have accepted a radical divorce between 
science and ethics. But to argue, as I have done, that the real connection between 
Witherspoon’s vision and Scottish philosophy lies in the unity of science and 
pedagogy, is to raise a more difficult issue—can academic research be divorced 
from university education? 

At Harvard, Francis Bowen flew the flag for moral philosophy in the Scottish 
tradition until the tide of Darwinism swept it aside. Bowen held out for Wither¬ 
spoon’s ideal—a “champion of the older ways” is David Hoeveler’s description 
of him. 19 At the same time, his vision for Princeton was that the “college” should 
become a “university.” The difference, as he saw it, is the theme of the Fourth 
of July address he gave in Connecticut, but he continued to hold that “it should 
be the primary aim, both of a college and a university, to educate the promising 
youth of a country.” 20 To other minds, the concepts of “university” and “college” 
were radically different. In February 1876, however, an institution quite different 
in conception had opened its doors—the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. 
Its stated goal was “the encouragement of research ... and the advancement of 
individual scholars, who by their excellence will advance the sciences they pur¬ 
sue, and the society where they dwell.” Its first president, Daniel Coit Gilman, 

18 See Misak, Oxford Handbook of American Philosophy, 47. 

19 J. David Hoeveler, James McCosh and the Scottish Intellectual Tradition (Princeton: Prince¬ 
ton University Press, 1981), 313. 

20 McCosh, The Scottish Philosophy, 9. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

expressly identifies it as a “university,” which he describes as “an institution 
quite different from a college, thus making an addition to American education, 
not introducing a rival.” 21 In such a place, education in the Scottish philosophy, 
or anything like it, could have no role. It is impossible for a philosopher not to 
raise this question: what kind of philosophy could have a role in such an institu¬ 
tion? But this opens up issues well beyond the scope of this paper. ■ 

21 Daniel Coit Gilman, in American Higher Education: A Documentary History, in two vols., 
R. Hofstadter and W. Smith, eds. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 599. 



Bearing the Unbearable: Trauma, Gospel, 
and Pastoral Care 

by Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger 

Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger is Charlotte W Newcombe Professor of Pasto¬ 
ral Theology at Princeton Theological Seminar}’. She delivered this inaugural 
lecture on September 27, 2010, in Stuart Hall . 7 

Traumatic loss lies at the very heart of the Christian imagination. The souls of 
those who call themselves Christian are indelibly stamped with the unbearable 
sorrow of this man, Jesus. After raising the hopes of many, Jesus died a shame¬ 
ful death, indeed an unjust and horrible death. What is more, his friends denied, 
betrayed, and abandoned him in his hour of need. He was tortured and executed 
as a common criminal, even though he had done nothing to warrant condem¬ 
nation. Jesus Christ drank the cup of bitterness all the way to its dregs and 
descended into the very depths of hell. How can such a terrible story be borne? 
Much more than an intellectual puzzle about so-called “theories of atonement” 
is at stake here. Believers who have survived trauma stake their very lives on the 
power of the gospel to heal. 


How can we give trauma the kind of disciplined attention that it deserves? Hold¬ 
ing even a fraction of this suffering steadily in our attention can be challenging. 
Is it possible to talk about trauma without causing pain to those already bearing 
trauma in their bodies and souls? 1 2 Daily, through the media, we are bombarded 

1 This lecture is dedicated to my beloved teacher Professor Arm Belford Ulanov, of Union 
Theological Seminary in New York. Studying with her was one of the great blessings of my 

2 Serene Jones asks a similar question: “How can ministers craft sermons that speak to the 
plight of trauma survivors without retraumatizing them?” See Serene Jones, Trauma and 
Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 85. 

DOI: 10.3754/1937-8386.2010.31.06 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

with stories capable of breaking our hearts, yet little attention is given to the 
impact of such accounts on its hearers. How can we bear these stories with an 
open heart? 3 Indeed, how do we bear them at all? 

Pastoral theology, as I understand it, is first and foremost a theology of God’s 
care for the world in Jesus Christ, in which we are invited to participate. 4 This 
means that all pastoral care depends upon prayer, leads to worship, and trusts 
in the promises of God. Such an orientation leads us to confess that though we 
ourselves, with our enduring failures to love, cannot truly redeem traumatic loss, 
we cling in hope to the One who can and does. That One drank the cup of bitter¬ 
ness, died a death of anguish, and descends into every darkness that threatens to 
overwhelm us. 

Those who study theology are called to ponder holocausts of every kind, from 
biblical “texts of terror,” 5 to grueling historical or theological tracts, to the hor¬ 
rors of the evening news. How can we fortify ourselves, our students, or our 
children for the kind of world we live in? Whether painted on a vast canvas 
of national or international significance or in a miniature of a single family or 
community, traumatic loss is ubiquitous. When it hits us personally, it changes 
our lives irrevocably: through the shock of an accident, a criminal assault, or 
tragic death; or through the multiple and complex traumas that arise in relation 
to immigration, war, imprisonment, torture, domestic violence, or sexual abuse. 
Unacknowledged and unhealed, trauma often leads to further violence, against 
either oneself or others, and thus to more trauma. With knowledgeable interven¬ 
tion and wise support, however, trauma can be healed and may even become “a 
catalyst for growth and transformation,” the turning point of a life, a sign and 
symbol of God’s goodness and care. 6 

As caregivers in the church who seek to help others, how can we be sure that we 
will first, do no harm? How can we be a source of spiritual strength and practical 
support for the communities we serve? Moreover, as witnesses to the trauma of 
others or as persons afflicted by trauma ourselves, where do we turn for help? 

In this inaugural lecture, I want to set forth an understanding of the impact of 

3 See Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger, “Keeping An Open Heart in Troubled Times: Self¬ 
empathy as a Christian Spiritual Practice,” in A Spiritual Life: Perspectives from Poets, Proph¬ 
ets, and Preachers, ed. Allan Hugh Cole Jr. (Louisville: Westminster John fmox Press, 2011). 

4 See Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation (Louis¬ 
ville: Westminster John Knox, 2004). 

5 Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives, (Philadel¬ 
phia: Fortress Press, 1984). 

6 Patricia Mathes Cane, Trauma Healing and Transformation (Watsonville: Capacitar, 
2000), 17. 


Bearing the Unbearable 

trauma and inquire into the role of the gospel and the church in its healing. I plan 
to address three basic issues: 

• What is trauma, and how does it affect us? 

• How do we break free from the vicious cycle of trauma’s impact? 

• How does the gospel with the pastoral care of the church bring healing to the 

What Is Trauma, and How Does It Affect Us? 

The twentieth century offered countless opportunities for studying trauma, but 
it was not until the 1970s that social and political ferment enabled its study to 
advance decisively. 7 By the mid 1970s, hundreds of “rap” groups had been orga¬ 
nized by Vietnam Veterans against the War, gatherings where men could speak 
honestly about the horror of war. At the same time, women gained collective 
courage as they shared, among other things, their stories of rape, sexual abuse, 
or domestic violence. No longer willing to allow “denial, secrecy, and shame” 8 
to render them mute, both men and women were able to transform what had pre¬ 
viously been private suffering into powerful public action for social and political 
change. In the 1970s and 1980s, crisis centers, rape hotlines, and safe shelters 
were established with painstaking effort in state after state. 9 

At the same time, the Veterans Administration commissioned thorough studies 
of the war’s impact on returning Vietnam vets. 10 Subsequently, a “five-volume 
study on the legacies of Vietnam ... demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt 
[the] direct relationship [of trauma] to combat exposure.” 11 With multiple vectors 
for social change converging, the American Psychiatric Association included a 
new diagnosis in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for 1980 called Post- 
traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In their first attempt to capture its essence, 

7 For a fascinating account of the history of the study of psychological trauma, see Judith Her¬ 
man’s classic text, Trauma and Recovery (New York: Basic Books, 1997), chap. one. 

8 Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 29. 

9 Herstory of Domestic Violence: A Timeline of the Battered Women’s Movement. MINCAVA 
Electronic Clearinghouse, accessed September 20, 2010, 
ments/herstory/herstory.html. “A study in Chicago reveals that from September 1965 to March 
1966, 46.1% of the major crimes perpetrated against women took place in the home. It also 
found that police response to domestic disturbance calls exceeded total response for murder, 
rape, aggravated assault, and other service crimes.” The preceding statistic cites Del Martin, 
Battered Wives (New York: Pocket Books, 1976), 4, as does the following statistic: “From 1968 
to 1973, the crime of rape increased 62% nationwide.” With a statistic like this, one wonders 
whether the crime actually increased so dramatically or whether the increase can be accounted 
for by the fact that more and more women were willing to acknowledge and report it. 

10 Herman, Trauma and Recovery ; 27. 

11 Ibid. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

psychiatrists described traumatic events as lying “outside the range of usual 
human experience,” 12 a definition that proved untenable, given that traumatic 
incidents of one kind or another are quite common. 13 As psychiatrist Judith Her¬ 
man writes: “Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, 
but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life.” 14 In 
fact, a simple, thumbnail definition of trauma might be: “an inescapably stress¬ 
ful event that overwhelms people’s coping mechanisms.” 15 When people face 
“intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, and the threat of annihilation,” 16 and 
when these feelings persist for more than a month, PTSD becomes the chosen 
diagnosis. 17 It is important to note, however, that witnesses to horrific events are 
also vulnerable to trauma. Watching helplessly as a loved one dies, seeing the 
Twin Towers fall to the earth, or listening in fear as one’s mother or sibling gets 
beaten—such events can also trigger a traumatic reaction. 18 

The subjective experience of feeling overwhelmed uniquely characterizes 
trauma and differentiates it from those situations that are experienced, perhaps, 
as exceptionally stressful but not as traumatic. Peter Levine elaborates: “Trau¬ 
matized people ... are unable to overcome the anxiety of their experience. They 
remain overwhelmed by the event, defeated and terrified. Virtually imprisoned 
by their fear, they are unable to re-engage in life. Others who experience similar 

12 Herman, Trauma and Recovery ; 33. 

13 “Norris (1992), in a study of 1,000 adults in the southern United States, found that 69% of 
the sample had experienced a traumatic stressor in their lives, and that this included 21% in 
the past year alone.” Quoted in Bessel A. van der Kolk, Alexander C. McFarlane, and Lars 
Weisaeth, eds., Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and 
Society (New York: Guilford Press, 2006), 135. 

14 Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 33. 

15 van der Kolk et al., Traumatic Stress, 279. 

16 N. C. Andreasen, “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,” in Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 
4th ed., H. I. Kaplan and B.J. Sadock, eds. (Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1985), 918-24, 
quoted in Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 33. 

17 Distinguishing the criteria for diagnoses can be dizzying because PTSD has so many close 
cousins, such as acute stress disorder, panic disorder, anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, etc. Fol¬ 
lowing is a synopsis of the seven criteria of PTSD: 1) the traumatic stressor involves death, 
injury, or serious threat (or witnessing or learning about such to another); 2) the response 
involves intense fear, helplessness, or horror; 3) the person persistently re-experiences the 
traumatic event; 4) the person persistently avoids stimuli associated with the trauma and tries 
to numb general responsiveness; 5) symptoms of hyperarousal persist; 6) the full-symptom 
picture must be present for a month or more; 7) and the symptoms cause “clinically significant 
distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” See 
also “309.81 Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,” Psychology Online, http://www.psychiatryonline 


18 See Kaethe Weingarten, Common Shock: Witnessing Violence Every Day (New York: New 
American Library, 2003). See also Kaethe Weingarten, “Witnessing the Effects of Political 
Violence in Families: Mechanisms of Intergenerational Transmission and Clinical Interven¬ 
tions,” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 30, no. 1 (January 2004): 45-59. 


Bearing the Unbearable 

events may have no enduring symptoms at all... No matter how frightening an 
event may seem, not everyone who experiences it will be traumatized.” 19 

The imponderable factor here is that the nature of the triggering event in and of 
itself does not guarantee a traumatic reaction. One person may experience the 
event as traumatic while her neighbor, friend, or daughter, having the exact same 
experience, may find it stressful but not traumatic. This fact remains completely 
inexplicable until we realize that none of us ever actually has the exact same 
experience because our minds organize our experiences in a completely idio¬ 
syncratic way. Its meaning will be different for each person because our way of 
making narrative sense of our lives is utterly unique. Thus, feeling overwhelmed 
or immobilized is a variable that cannot be predicted by either the nature, the 
magnitude, or the intensity of the triggering event. 20 “ Consequently ;” writes 
Carolyn Yoder, “a traumatic reaction needs to be treated as valid, regardless of 
how the event that induced it appears to anyone else .” 21 

I want to underscore this point because I believe it is fundamental to competent 
pastoral care. Time and again, one hears people minimizing or discounting the 
anguish of others, essentially encouraging them to “get over it.” Wanting those 
they love to be whole, they try to encourage them by rationally explaining why 
they should not be upset by so small a thing. Yet there is little that so completely 
obstructs the healing process as having someone offer the free advice to “get 
over it” or “put it behind” them. While such defense mechanisms— denial and 
minimization— on the part of friends or caregivers are understandable as human 
reactions to pain in those they love, they only injure the traumatized further, 
perhaps to the point of shaming them into silence and truly unbearable isolation. 

Yet, why aren’t they able simply to “get over it?” The various symptoms of post- 
traumatic stress have been aptly summarized by Judith Herman, as hyperarousal, 
intrusion, and constriction: “ Hyperarousal reflects the persistent expectation of 
danger; intrusion reflects the indelible imprint of the traumatic moment; con¬ 
striction reflects the numbing response of surrender.” 22 While each symptom 
originates in the triggering event itself, they all have an afterlife in the person’s 
unfolding post trauma history. 

19 Peter Levine, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1997), 

20 Carolyn Yoder, The Little Book of Trauma Healing (Intercourse: Good Books, 2005), 10. 

21 Ibid., 11 (emphasis in the original). 

22 Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 35. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

Any kind of physical or emotional shock has the potential to set certain physio¬ 
logical responses in motion. Typical responses include one’s heart beating 
faster, difficulty in breathing, rising blood pressure, and the constriction of one’s 
stomach. One’s thoughts may begin to race and the skin may become cold. These 
responses all stem from the autonomic nervous system’s putting the body on high 
alert in response to a perception of threat. The release of hormones mobilizes the 
body for fight or flight. When neither fight nor flight seems possible, the physio¬ 
logical response of the body is to freeze. 23 

In the freeze response, “the victim of trauma enters an altered reality. Time 
slows down and there is no fear or pain. In this state, if harm or death occurs, the 
pain is not felt as intensely.” 24 There is a notable shift in consciousness, in which 
there is a subjective sense of detachment. Victims of sexual assault, for instance, 
sometimes speak of “leaving their body” and watching themselves from another 
point in the room: standing next to the bed or looking down from the ceiling. 25 
Metaphorically, it is as if the soul escapes the body to protect the person from 
the physical pain and the full emotional impact of his or her radical vulnerability. 

Like the fight-or-flight response, freezing is also heralded by a flood of hor¬ 
mones. In 1844, Dr. David Livingstone described his subjective experience of 
being seized by a lion: “Growling horribly close to my ear, he shook me as a 
terrier dog does a rat. It produced a sort of dreaminess in which there was no 
sense of pain, nor feeling of terror, though I was quite conscious of all that was 
happening ... This placidity is probably produced in all animals killed by the 
carnivore; and if so, is a merciful provision of the Creator for lessening the pain 
of death. 26 

The capacity of the mind to dissociate like this may reduce the immediate pain 
and horror of the event, but it does so at a high cost. Studies now demonstrate 
that “people who enter a dissociative state at the time of the traumatic event are 
among those most likely to develop long-lasting PTSD.” 27 

During a traumatic ordeal, the intense hyperarousal of the emotions often 
“interfere^] with proper information processing and the storage of information 

23 Babette Rothschild, The Body Remembers (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2000), 8. 

24 Rothschild, The Body Remembers, 10. 

25 Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 43. 

26 The following link, accessed May 10, 2010, was not accessible at publication: http://www 

27 Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 239. 


Bearing the Unbearable 

in narrative (explicit) memory.” 28 This means that memory of the trauma is often 
fragmented; it is not organized in a linear, narrative fashion, as normal memories 
are. Instead, certain features associated with sensory data are vividly remem¬ 
bered, such as a particular smell, sound, image, or color. If a dog was barking 
when the person was assaulted, for instance, the sound of a barking dog might 
evoke subsequent feelings of terror or rage strangely unaccompanied by an 
explicit memory of the assault. Or, alternatively, the memory of the assault may 
be explicit yet strangely dissociated from the accompanying emotions. Van der 
Kolk comments: “Although the individual may be unable to produce a coherent 
narrative of the incident, there may be no interference with implicit memory; 
the person may “know” the emotional valence of a stimulus and be aware of 
associated perceptions, without being able to articulate the reasons for feeling or 
behaving in a particular way. Pierre Janet (1859-1947) proposed that traumatic 
memories are split off (dissociated) from consciousness and instead are stored as 
sensory perceptions, obsessional ruminations, or behavioral reenactments. 29 

Such intrusive memories can be quite distressing, as aspects of the traumatic 
event are replayed in the mind over and over again, without the full picture, 
without the experience of “normal memory” that enables a coherent sense of 

After such an event, the hyperarousal of the nervous system keeps persons on 
a kind of “permanent alert,” 30 where they may startle easily and sleep poorly. 
Subject to nightmares and intrusive flashbacks, they may begin to circumscribe 
their world to avoid anything that might retrigger the feelings of helplessness, 
rage, fear, grief, panic, and shame associated with the event. Flashbacks are 
something like having nightmares while awake. Something triggers the memory 
of the trauma, perhaps the smell of alcohol, the sound of a particular footfall, 
a certain tone of voice or characteristic gesture. Indeed, anything can trigger a 
flashback because of the way the brain organizes data in a vast web of intercon¬ 
nected associations. Neurologists remind us that neurons that “fire together, wire 
together.” 31 Two or more things are forever associated, “wired together,” in the 
brain’s neural pathways. Suddenly, one is shaking and sweating in response to 
an ordinary event. 32 Yet knowing that one’s response is out of proportion to what 

28 Van der Kolk, Traumatic Stress, 286. 

29 Van der Kolk, Traumatic Stress, 287. 

30 Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 35. 

31 See Daniel Siegel, The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to 
Shape Who We Are (New York: The Guilford Press), chap. four. 

32 “Painful life experiences get encoded in our brains and bodies and can be reactivated with 
great intensity by the right kind of trigger decades later, even if we believe that we have 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

triggered it only increases a sense of powerlessness, anxiety and shame. Because 
such experiences of intrusion are so frightening and because survivors can make 
little rational sense of them, survivors often do whatever they can to avoid these 
states or to deaden the pain by numbing out in some way. 

If survivors do not actively seek help, a whole range of defensive patterns may 
develop. Rather than facing the pain directly, survivors may turn the intense 
traumatic energy against themselves. Many addictive behaviors have their 
source in unresolved trauma that is not consciously faced: substance abuse, 
workaholism, eating disorders, even rituals of self-mutilation can seem prefer¬ 
able to experiencing the buried pain of trauma. 33 Shame, dread, and helplessness 
are pervasive, alternating with numbness, depression, or a sense of emptiness. 
The victims’ sense of agency is damaged; they often feel powerless and alone in 
a hostile world, wondering whether anyone cares if they live or die. 34 Spiritual 
questions may become particularly intense, with a growing sense of disorienta¬ 
tion or even meaninglessness. Living in an unsafe world, survivors of trauma put 
themselves on constant alert, watching for danger. 

Whereas many victims suffer in silence, others turn the intensity of their suf¬ 
fering outward. Feelings of rage may predominate. Wanting justice, fantasies 
of revenge may become an obsession. Sometimes victims create a narrative in 
which the plotline of good versus evil has them perpetually in role of the “good 
guy” with “the other” as the “bad guy.” The enemy is typically seen as less than 
fully human. The traumatized begin to tell a predictable tale that seldom varies. 
Pastoral theologian David Augsburger challenges victims of trauma to ask them¬ 
selves a number of pointed questions: Can I identify what I get out of rehearsing 
an offense over and over? Why do I insist on replaying the history of injury? 
How often have I told and retold the story of the offense to others to gain their 
support and validation of my role or position as victim? 35 

When such desires for revenge are not consciously wrestled with, attacks on 
others may seem justified as a way of restoring a sense of dignity, respect, and 

dealt with them or have completely forgotten about them.” A. J. van den Blink, “Trauma and 
Spirituality,” 16. The following link, accessed July 30, 2008, was not available at publication:, accessed July 30, 2008. 

33 Yoder, The Little Book of Trauma Healing, 33. 

34 Feeling helpless and alone in a potentially hostile world was Karen Homey’s definition of 
neurosis. See Neurosis and Human Growth (New York: Norton, 1950). Serene Jones speaks 
repeatedly throughout her book on the damaged sense of agency of the traumatized and their 
need for experiences of empowerment; see Jones, Trauma and Grace. 

35 David Augsburger, Hate Work (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 221. 


Bearing the Unbearable 

honor or in the name of justice. 36 In a chilling comment, James Gilligan, director 
of the Center for the Study of Violence at the Harvard Medical School, comments 
that “All violence is an effort to do justice or to undo injustice.” 37 Pain that is not 
transformed does not simply disappear. As Ann Ulanov writes: “Where we repress 
our grudge-holding, our wish to make someone pay for what has happened to us 
... that repressed shadow does not just go away. It goes unconscious and remains 
alive with instinctual impulses, emotions, but far out of reach of modification by 
social or personal reality testing ... We put onto others what we do not own in our¬ 
selves and identify them with this rejected bit of ourselves. The personal becomes 
social. But then this live bit of shadow menaces us from the outside. 38 

Instead of the trauma being “acted in” against the self, it is now “acted out” 
against others. The traumatized feel justified in venting their rage, yet such 
repeated venting only serves to inscribe the anger and sense of moral outrage 
more deeply in body and soul. It does nothing to bring healing or peace. 

Freud describes “repetition compulsion” as a symbolic reliving of the trauma, as 
a way the traumatized express their suffering while yet failing to become fully 
conscious of it. Children who have been sexually abused, for example, may 
engage in ritual play that gives unconscious voice to the abuse. Those honored 
for bravery in war may suffer repetitive nightmares 39 or else wreak terrible vio¬ 
lence on their families as they struggle with mental pain. 40 The combination of 
survivor guilt, depression, frozen grief, anguish, and rage act as a kind of seeth¬ 
ing cauldron beneath the surface, ready to burst forth in a symbolic re-enactment 
of the original horror, often with tragic results. 

How Do We Break Free from the Vicious Cycle of Trauma’s Impact? 

Is it possible to forge a path that seeks neither “oblivion” on the one hand nor 
“revenge” on the other? 41 Is it possible truly to heal? Ann Ulanov describes the 
predicament of those who have constricted their lives in the aftermath of trauma. 

36 Howard Zehr, "Doing Justice, Healing Trauma: The Role of Restorative Justice in Peace¬ 
building,” South Asian Journal of Peacebuilding 1, no. 1 (Spring, 2008), 15. 

37 James Gilligan, Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic (New York: Random House, 
1996), quoted in Howard Zehr, "Doing Justice, Healing Trauma: The Role of Restorative Jus¬ 
tice in Peacebuilding,” South Asian Journal of Peacebuilding 1, no. 1, (Spring, 2008), 5. 

38 Ann Belford Ulanov, The Unshuttered Heart (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007), 140M1. 

39 Wilmer, Harry, “The Healing Nightmare: A Study of the War Dreams of Vietnam Combat 
Veterans,” Quadrant 19, no. 1 (Spring, 1986). 

40 See the story told by “Gizelle” in which the unhealed suffering of war leads to sexual assault with 
tragic effects in Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, The Courage to Heal (New York: Harper. 2008). 

41 Bessel van der Kolk dedicates his remarkable anthology. Traumatic Stress: The Effects of 
Overwhelming Experience on Mind , Body and Society, "to Nelson Mandela and all those who, 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

We swap aliveness for restriction in order to feel safer, avoid pain, sur¬ 
vive some blow that seems to us unbearable, that would destroy us. We 
fear we are empty inside so we cover it up with manufactured control, 
or made-up excitement, or self-promotion. The emptiness can never 
change if we refuse to experience it, and in the company of an other. 

We need an other to depend on when we turn to face our deadness. 

Whatever we are afraid of, it requires our attention; we must go down 
into it, look around, not knowing if and how we will come out. 42 

Three key phrases need to be underlined here: First, whatever we are afraid of 
requires our attention. Second, we need to experience it in the company of an 
other. And third, we take these steps not knowing if and how we will come out. 

Those who seek to reclaim their lives after trauma need to face what has actu¬ 
ally happened to them. It requires their attention. If their nervous system is in 
a hyperaroused state, they need to find as much safety as possible. Only true 
safety will provide the emotional security needed to begin the healing process 
commonly known as mourning. Giving voice to all that they have experienced— 
the terror and helplessness, the sense of moral outrage and personal violation, 
the sorrow, hurt, anger and grief—becomes the essential first step in piecing 
together a coherent narrative. 

Yet none of this can happen apart from the lively presence of a caring other. 

Who is there that can bear the anguish of such a narrative, without minimizing 
or denying it, without giving advice or offering strategies to overcome it? Who 
can listen without offering empty platitudes or switching the focus to a similar 
story of their own? Who has the wisdom to refrain from asking intrusive ques¬ 
tions prompted by their own anxiety, allowing the traumatized space to tell their 
story in their own way at their own pace? Who can offer a compassionate, caring 
presence, free of pity or judgment, of praise or blame? 43 

Healing begins as the traumatized begin to piece together a coherent narrative, 
creating a web of meaning around unspeakable events while remaining fully 
connected emotionally both to themselves and to their listener. It takes courage 
even to begin such a conversation. Their feelings can be confusing and difficult 

after having been hurt, work on transforming the trauma of others, rather than seeking oblivion 
or revenge.” 

42 Ulanov, The Unshuttered Heart, 38. 

43 Training in nonviolent or compassionate communication teaches an exquisite awareness and 
concrete strategies for the kind of empathic attunement described here. See Marshall Rosen¬ 
berg, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (Encinitas: Puddledancer Press, 2003). 


Bearing the Unbearable 

to sort out. Often there seem to be no words that adequately describe the horror. 
Moreover, is it safe to trust the listener? Feelings of shame, fear of judgment, 
and extreme vulnerability are common. Maybe talking about it will make mat¬ 
ters worse. 

Talking about it can, in actual fact, make matters worse. Any kind of direct 
processing of the traumatic experience needs to be balanced at all times with a 
sense of safety and containment. Anchoring oneself in the present, feeling safe 
with one’s listener, processing one small piece at a time, and mourning each of 
the profound losses involved, all these steps take time, patience and exquisite 
self-care. Trauma specialists are trained to pay attention to signs of distress and 
deliberately slow down the process, remembering the maxim that “the slower 
you go, the faster you get there .” 44 The goal in talking about it is to stay fully 
connected to the feelings without becoming overwhelmed. Eye contact with 
the caregiver, slowing down the pace, taking a break from the past, returning 
to the present with clear focus on one’s bodily sensations, all help to put on 
the brakes . 45 Understanding what is happening and why profoundly assists the 
healing process as well. This is why a clear conceptual understanding of trauma 
is important: understanding becomes a part of the holding environment that 
contains anxiety and increases a sense of empowerment. 

Those who have courageously faced trauma give powerful witness to the risks 
involved. Will they choose life by facing the pain, or will they shrink back once 
again into numbing defenses? 

When I get into a crisis now, instead of saying, “Oh my God, I’m never 
going to heal,” I see that it’s like layers, and the more I work with it, 
the more they keep coming around. And even though it’s like, “But I 
was feeling good two days ago and now I’m shaking and crying and 
I can’t sleep,” I’m beginning to see that I’m not coming back to the 
same place. I’m coming back at a different level... When I reach the 
next level where the tears are, where the fear is, where the tiredness is, I 
have to trust. ...” 46 

44 Jon G. Allen, Coping with Trauma: Hope Through Understanding (Washington, D.C: Ameri¬ 
can Psychiatric Publishing, 2005), 251-53. 

45 Babette Rothschild writes: “I never help clients call forth traumatic memories unless I and 
my clients are confident that the flow of their anxiety, emotion, memories, and body sensations 
can be contained at will. I never teach a client to hit the accelerator, in other words, before I 
know that he can find the brake.” See “Applying the Brakes,” Body Mind Spirit, accessed July 
10, 2010, 

46 Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, The Courage to Heal (New York: Harper and Row, 1988), 457. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

For me the decision not to identify with the past was a decision, not just 
a change I went through in the healing process. I had to make a quan¬ 
tum leap that I was no longer going to have the abuse be the cause and 
my life be the effect... Right now you have to choose what standpoint 
you are going to live life from. And it’s a constant choice. 47 

Trauma survivors need to choose life over death, not once but many times, 
reaching out with the fragile hope that the trauma can be healed or transformed, 
that the pain will abate, or that some kind of normalcy will return. Some try to 
take their lives. Tragically, many succeed, despairing that nothing can stop the 
eternal recurrence of the trauma. Each person needs the love, support, respect, 
and understanding of caring others. 48 Those who grow through and beyond 
trauma do so in part by forging a spiritual framework for what is called post- 
traumatic growth. Not knowing if or how they will come out, they neverthe¬ 
less are freed to take steps toward greater and greater freedom. It is to one such 
framework that I now turn. 

How Does the Gospel with the Pastoral Care of the Church Bring Healing to 
Those Suffering from Traumatic Loss? 

When we enter “the strange new world of the Bible,” we are confronted with 
paradox and mystery at every turn. Here we behold a crucified Savior, a God 
who bears our grief and carries our sorrow, who heals by taking away the sin of 
the world, both the evil we suffer and the evil we do. It makes no rational sense. 
Looked at from outside the circle of faith, it is a complete conundrum. “Getting 
in” on this religion wrenches your mind inside out: Is the Cross of Christ sheer 
foolishness, or is it the very power of God? (I Cor. 1:18). 

At its core, the Cross becomes gospel for the traumatized only if they are able 
to see there a divine love willing to bear what is unbearable for mortal, fallen 
human beings. God bears for us the full weight of both sin and death. If God in 
Jesus Christ descends into the worst hell imaginable in order to deliver us from 
the hells we inflict upon one another, then such a God is worthy of our trust. 
When we stand by helplessly witnessing the suffering and dying of those we 
love, we have a God to whom we can entrust them in life and in death. For Jesus 
Christ is not simply a human companion who comforts us by suffering trauma 

47 Ibid., 438. 

48 Sometimes teens and children are overlooked. Where early attachment is threatened or rup¬ 
tured, children are much more vulnerable to trauma throughout their lives. See the valuable 
work done by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network for helpful resources: http://www (I am indebted to Jennie Olbrych for this reference.) 


Bearing the Unbearable 

alongside us. As the creeds of the church attest, he is known to us as the risen 
Lord, the very Wisdom and Power of God, through whom God will fulfill his 
purpose of redemption. Jesus Christ, the gospel attests, bears what cannot be 
borne by fragile, fallen human beings. He alone bears the sin of the world and he 
alone bears it away. 

As the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Christ is known as 
that One who suffers for our sakes as well. On our behalf and for our sakes, he 
takes human depravity into his own divine heart in order to transform it, so that 
it no longer has the power to separate us from God. The powers of sin and death 
that have such a hold on us—and that are at the root of all trauma—are finally 
nullified. Not only the fear of death, by which human beings are made “subject 
to lifelong bondage” (Heb. 2:15), but also the fear of eternal estrangement from 
the very Source of Life is proclaimed to be overcome in Christ. Through Christ, 
we have access to all that we long for: the loving gaze of one who cherishes us, 
miraculous outpourings of grace, a steady anchor in times of distress, mercy on 
our weakness, forgiveness of our sins, and most basic of all, the lifeline of basic 

If salvation means forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life, then all 
of our pastoral arts of healing have this promise as its telos. Healing, whether 
physical, emotional, or spiritual, is always set within this larger context of the 
unimaginable reaches of God’s salvation. 49 Our hope is nothing less than the 
salvation of the world in Jesus Christ; it is also a hope held out for the perpetra¬ 
tors of trauma as well as for its victims. All those human beings from whom we 
normally seek to separate ourselves by every conceivable means, those perpetra¬ 
tors of unspeakable horror—they, too, perhaps more than anyone—need to hear 
the gospel word of God’s judgment and mercy. If One died for all, then he died 
for those who have brought the terrors of hell, not only upon others, but also 
upon themselves through their own actions. 50 

49 See Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger, Theology and Pastoral Counseling: A New Interdis¬ 
ciplinary Approach (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995). See also Robert W. Jenson, “Story and 
Promise in Pastoral Care,” Pastoral Psychology 26, no. 7 (1977): 113-23. "In historical fact 
and by manifest anthropological necessity, nothing but final hope ever sustains genuine suffer¬ 
ing or enables creative historic action.” 

50 “More recently has come an awareness of 'perpetrator-induced trauma’ and its role in per¬ 
petuating the cycle of victimization and offending; severe offending can itself cause trauma 
in offenders.” Howard Zehr, “Doing Justice, Healing Trauma: The Role of Restorative Justice 
in Peacebuilding,” South Asian Journal of Peacebuilding 1, no. 1 (Spring, 2008): 10. See also 
Robert MacNair, Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Psychological Consequences of 
Killing (Westport: Praeger, 2002). For a compelling story, see Wendell Berry, "Pray without 
Ceasing” in Fidelity (New York: Pantheon, 1992), 3-60. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

Indeed, whenever we affirm that Christ died for sinners, we affirm our solidarity 
with all who do harm, solidarity in sin as well as in our deliverance from sin. In 
confessing ourselves as sinners, utterly unable to save ourselves, we recognize 
that under similar circumstances of deprivation, terror, or colossal historic evils, 
we, too, would be capable of monstrous crimes toward our fellow human beings. 
The Cross of Jesus Christ is God’s response not only to the terror of human 
trauma but also to the anguish of human guilt, bringing succor and healing to the 
one, and judgment, forgiveness and the “godly grief’ of repentance to the other 
(II Cor. 7:10). When we affirm the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, we 
affirm his power to bring every kind of evil to an end. “Though innocent, Christ 
suffers as if guilty and ends the logic of evil by taking our suffering onto his 
body, and not being destroyed by it nor by the death it inflicts. The abyss of love 
is revealed as stronger than the abyss of death, the power of love as stronger 
than the power of hate.” 51 

This is an interpretive framework that no psychiatrist or therapist has to offer, no 
twelve-step program or self-help group can claim, but that can be preached and 
taught week after week in the context of ordinary pastoral care: that in overcom¬ 
ing the world, Jesus Christ saves us from both the guilt and anguish of human 
sin, as well as the terror and trauma of suffering and death. 

These are words of hope to which the traumatized may cling. “Now hope that is 
seen is not hope” (Rom. 8:24). Though our faith holds us fast to this hope, we 
know that many descend into their graves with nothing but hatred toward those 
who have harmed them or those they love. Forgiveness, though freely given by 
God, does not seem to be a human possibility for us in turn. Try as we might, it 
does not seem subject to our human will but comes, when it does, as a miracle 
of God. 52 While not subject to our human will, forgiveness rarely happens apart 
from an active decision to forgive. One definition of forgiveness, given by 
pastoral theologian David Augsburger, “is an act of laying aside one’s rational 
arguments for repayment, my principled arguments for my being truly in the 
right and you being wholly in the wrong, and at last offering a full and complete 
pardon to the other, whether or not there are any believable signs of authentic 
remorse or repentance in the perpetrator. In granting the other person release, 
one receives one’s own.” 53 

51 Ulanov, The Unshuttered Heart, 150-51. 

52 Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger, “Forgiving Abusive Parents,” in Forgiveness and Truth, ed. 
Alistair McFadyen and Marcel Sarot (New York: T & T Clark, 2001), 71-98. 

53 David Augsburger, Hate-Work: Working Through the Pain and Pleasures of Hate (Louis¬ 
ville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 232. 


Bearing the Unbearable 

We have seen this miracle of forgiveness in the testimonies of those who appeared 
before the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One that has stayed 
with me is the testimony of Ms. Babalwa Mhlauli. Bishop Tutu writes, “When she 
had finished telling her story, she said she wanted to know who had killed her father. 
She spoke quietly and, for someone so young, with much maturity and dignity. You 
could have heard a pin drop in that hushed City Hall when she said, “We do want 
to forgive but we don’t know whom to forgive.” 54 We see it in Marietta Jaeger-Lane 
who has worked tirelessly for both victims and perpetrators in the years that fol¬ 
lowed the kidnapping and murder of her seven-year-old daughter, Susie. Founder of 
Murdered Victim’s Families for Reconciliation, Ms. Jaeger-Lane continues to honor 
her daughter by offering testimony to end capital punishment for capital crimes. 55 
Such stories challenge us to consider those for whom we harbor ill will, those we 
are unable or unwilling to forgive. Sometimes, we can only lay them at the foot of 
the Cross for God to judge, confessing our inability to fathom either the extent of the 
evil or its redemption. We can only point away from ourselves to the transcendent 
hope of the gospel we are called to proclaim. 

If maintaining hope is the foundation of all healing, as psychotherapist Jon G. 
Allen attests, then the gospel has something fundamental to offer those afflicted 
by trauma. 56 While ministry cannot replace the work of psychiatry or psycho¬ 
therapy, it can nevertheless function as an indispensable part of the healing 
process. 57 When human trust has eluded them, the traumatized desperately need 
an anchor, a point of reference, something or someone reliable in whom to place 
their trust. Scripture attests again and again that by the power of the Spirit, God 
comes to those who cry out for help: “I called on Your name, O Lord, from the 
lowest pit. You have heard my voice: “Do not hide Your ear from my sighing, 
from my cry for help. You drew near on the day I called on You, and said, ‘Do 
not fear!’” (Lam. 3: 55-57: NKJV). 

54 Desmond Tutu, No Future -without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 149. 
55 Testimony of Marietta Jaeger Lane on Behalf of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights 
& Journey of Hope, An Act Abolishing the Death Penalty and Replacing it with Life Imprison¬ 
ment without Possibility of Release, Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, February 7, 2007,, accessed September 9, 2010. See also: 
Marietta Jaeger, The Lost Child (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983). 

56 Jon G. Allen, Coping with Trauma: Hope through Understanding, 2nd ed. (Arlington: Ameri¬ 
can Psychiatric Publishing, 2004). 

57 ln the United States context, those diagnosed with PTSD will often turn for help to therapists 
specially trained in trauma. In other contexts around the world, imaginative rituals and collec¬ 
tive healing processes have been developed. See, for example, the work of Martha Cabrera, 
“Living and Surviving in a Multiply Wounded Country” describing her work in Nicaragua, 
qi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=&pbx=l&fp=8d9c50a61d5b9175. Accessed September 27, 2010. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

We thus facilitate healing when we help the afflicted cry out their sorrow, rage, 
and tears to God. Prayers of lament—crying out to God for deliverance—seem 
to be faith’s only alternative to despair. 58 Instead of protecting themselves 
against the pain, the afflicted are encouraged to go down into it, clinging to 
God’s promises as they do so. Listen to one such lament, in which the afflicted 
one directs her anguish toward God. 

There comes a time when both body and soul 
Enter into such a vast darkness 
That one loses light and consciousness 
And knows nothing more of God’s intimacy. 

At such a time, when the light in the lantern bums out 
The beauty of the lantern can no longer be seen, 

With longing and distress we are reminded of our nothingness. 

At such a time I pray to God: 

“O God, this burden is too heavy for me!” 

And God replies: 

“I will take this burden first and clasp it close to Myself 
And that way you may more easily bear it. ...” 

If God leaves me unanointed, I could never recover. 

Even if all the hills flowed with healing oils, 

And all the waters contained healing powers, 

And all the flowers and all the trees dripped with healing ointments, 

Still, I could never recover. 

“God, I will tear the heart of my soul in two 
And you must lie therein. 

You must lay yourself in the wounds of my soul.” 59 

These words of Mechthild of Magdeburg, mystic of the thirteenth century, echo 
down through the centuries, offering a startling image of healing through the 
palpable presence of Christ’s own body. In her fervent prayer, Mechthild offers 
the wounds of her soul for healing through the intimate presence of Christ’s 

58 Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger, “Prayers of Lament,” Pray without Ceasing: Revitalizing 
Pastoral Care (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006). 

59 Marchienne Vroon Rienstra, Swallow s Nest: A Feminine Reading of the Psalms (Grand 
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), Appendix. From The Flowing Light of the Godhead by Mechthild of 
Magdeburg, Cistercian nun (1210-c. 1285). 


Bearing the Unbearable 

broken body. Here we meet profound mystery. An image of union with Christ 
rises up from the depths and is given voice in her prayer. Only the full, living 
presence of a wounded Savior can heal her soul. 

Psychologist Robert Stolorow speaks of the fundamental necessity of finding 
what he calls a “relational home” for traumatic experience. He writes, “Trauma 
is constituted in an intersubjective context in which severe emotional pain can¬ 
not find a relational home in which it can be held. In such a context, painful 
affect states become unendurable.” 60 

Severe emotional pain cannot be endured if it does not have a relational home, 
someone to hold what cannot be borne. 61 Ministers of the gospel of Jesus 
Christ who are rooted and grounded in the love of God provide just such a 
relational home for all those who groan for the redemption of the world. They 
offer a steady, sturdy, compassionate and loving witness to all who have suf¬ 
fered trauma. Insofar as they thus participate in Christ’s own compassion, they 
become witnesses to and mediators of Christ’s miraculous grace. 


In recent decades, pastoral theology has turned more and more to the public, 
social, and political dimensions of both affliction and pastoral care. Ministers of 
the church not only attend to individual members of their congregations but also 
participate in larger communities of outreach and care. Especially in the light 
of recent large-scale disasters, pastoral leaders need to respond with sensitivity 
to the needs of those who do not share the gospel narrative as the overarching 
context of meaning of their lives. I believe that it is crucial for us also to address 
questions such as these, even though they lie outside the scope of the present 
lecture. 62 

60 Robert D. Stolorow, Trauma and Human Existence (New York: Routledge, 2007), 10. 

61 See also the example in Hunsinger, “Keeping an Open Heart in Troubled Times: Self-empa¬ 
thy as a Christian Spiritual Practice.” The experience described there illustrates the importance 
of having one’s pain “witnessed,” as described by Weingarten in Common Shock. 

62 Jeannette Sutton writes about the wariness that disaster coordinators have toward those provid¬ 
ers of spiritual care who volunteer their assistance. “There has been unease about hidden agen¬ 
das. the appropriateness of religiously oriented interventions, and concern for victims who might 
feel that contact with some minister-types is intrusive and assaultive” (“Convergence of the 
Faithful: Spiritual Care Response to Disaster and Mass Casualty Events,” Journal of Pastoral 
Theology 16, no. 1 [Fall, 2006]: 19. Through ministries of "presence” and “hospitality,” spiritual 
care providers in the public sphere offer comfort and reassurance while helping victims to draw 
upon their “own religious and/or spiritual resources in order to construct meaning out of chaos.” 
They respect personal boundaries, know how to work in an interfaith manner, and are responsive 
to training from the disaster assistance professionals such as the American Red Cross. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

As leaders in their own church communities, pastoral leaders need to recognize 
the power inherent in their position to frame and interpret any traumatic event 
that has occurred. In so doing, they can either inflame the situation by escalat¬ 
ing anxiety (through name-calling, rushing to judgment and blame, using us/ 
them dichotomies, labeling dissenting views, or withholding or misrepresent¬ 
ing the facts) 63 or decrease anxiety and facilitate healing by opening channels 
of communication among all parties involved. 64 As they offer a secure holding 
environment to strengthen frayed bonds of trust, and as they call upon God to 
minister to the community in its pain, they offer space to the hurting to tell their 
story. In some cases, nearly everyone in the community has been hurt by trauma, 
in strangely diverse ways. 65 In this kind of situation, it is essential to refrain from 
moralizing or blaming and instead position themselves in such a way that all 
persons can be heard. 66 The community needs to gather in order to share their 
common grief, which serves to counteract the fear, shame, isolation, and horror 
of what has occurred. 67 

The pastoral care of the community finds its final locus in ritual, psalm, and 
song, in worship and the mystery of the Lord’s Supper. Personal trauma and loss 
are woven into the losses of the larger community as the liturgy unfolds. That 
which is most deeply personal becomes part of the communal lament of the 
people of God through the ages. Walter Brueggeman reminds us that “the public 
dimension of grief is deep underneath personal loss and, for the most part, not 
easily articulated among us. But grief will not be worked well or adequately 
until attention goes underneath the personal to the public and communal. My 
expectation is that pastors, liturgically and pastorally, most need to provide 
opportunity and script for lament and complaint and grief for a long time. 

No second maneuver after grief shall be permitted to crowd in upon this raw, 

63 Volkan Volmik, Blind Trust: Large Groups and their Leaders in Times of Crisis and Terror 
(Charlottesville: Pitchstone Publishing), cited in STAR training, “Part III: The Trauma Healing 
Journey, Breaking the Cycles of Violence, Eastern Mennonite University, 2002. 

64 See Howard Zehr, The Little Book of Restorative Justice (Intercourse: Good Books, 2002), 

65 It is worth noting that ministers themselves are vulnerable to any trauma afflicting their com¬ 
munity. Pastors and church leaders occupy a unique dual role, as those called to give pastoral 
care, and as those human beings who are themselves personally affected. Those in caregiving 
roles need to be exquisitely attuned to their own needs for care, especially when their immedi¬ 
ate community is in crisis. Ministers’ families are vitally affected and need support as well. 
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) consists of PCUSA pastors, elders, and mental health 
professionals who are trained in trauma and crisis response, who offer companionship and sup¬ 
port to church leaders in congregations affected by “human-caused disasters.” For this point, I 
am indebted to Katherine Wiebe, a Princeton Theological Seminary alumna who serves on the 

66 Zehr, The Little Book of Restorative Justice , 67-69. 

67 Ibid., 19-41. 


Bearing the Unbearable 

elemental requirement.” 68 By permitting an unrelieved descent into the raw emo¬ 
tions of grief within the secure boundaries of ritual space, hope and trust may be 
paradoxically restored. 69 

As the church gathers for worship, we are told of a God who is “the Father of mer¬ 
cies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may 
be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which 
we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1). In worship we find space both 
to mourn and to hope, as we wait with painful longing for the redemption of the 
world. We find comfort in the midst of affliction when we are reminded that the 
One who descends into every human hell we create, and unwittingly or mali¬ 
ciously perpetuate, is the very One who sits at the right hand of the Father in glory. 

The community that responds to trauma in these ways will, by the grace and 
power of God, find itself stronger, wiser, more compassionate, and more resil¬ 
ient. Its collective story will be one of overcoming adversity together rather than 
a story of shame, re-victimization, fear, and silencing. By reclaiming the essen¬ 
tial practices of our faith—compassionate witnessing, communal lament, and 
public worship—we “enable people to continue to love God in the face of evil 
and suffering and in so doing to prevent tragic suffering from becoming evil.” 70 
As John Swinton writes, “Loving God does not take away the pain that [trauma] 
inflicts, but it does transform it.” 71 May God work out our salvation by bearing 
what cannot be borne, by transforming our mourning into longing, our longing 
into lament, our lament into hope, and, through the redemption of this beloved 
world, our hope into joy. 72 a 

68 Walter Brueggeman, as cited by John Swin¬ 
ton in Raging with Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil (Grand Rapids: 
Eerdmans, 2007), 121. 

69 See “Unspeakable Things Spoken: Globalization, Imperial Trauma and the Development of 
AfricanAmerican Identities,” by Cedric C. Johnson, for a description and analysis of a whole 
community engaged in a transformative healing process as they confront horrific historic and 
ongoing trauma. Princeton Theological Seminary Ph.D. dissertation. May, 2010. 

70 John Swinton, Raging with Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil (Grand 
Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 85. 

71 Ibid., 75. 

72 1 am indebted to colleagues George Hunsinger, Katherine Sonderegger, Katherine Wiebe, 
and Barbara Chaapel for valuable comments on earlier drafts of this lecture. 



Between Text and Community: Jews and Christians in the 
Second Century 

by Judith M. Lieu 

Judith M. Lieu is the Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity, and Fellow of 
Robinson College, at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of\, II, & 

III John: A Commentary (2008), Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco- 
Roman World (2004), and Neither Jew nor Greek: Constructing Early Christian¬ 
ity (2002). Dr. Lieu delivered the Frederick Neumann Memorial on November 
15, 2010, in the Main Lounge 1 

Jl t is commonplace to refer to Judaism and Christianity—and also to Islam, 
which will not be discussed here—as “religions of the book.” The label is 
self-evidently a slippery one: does it mean religions of the book, a specific one, 
presumably TANAK or Bible, perhaps with one eye particularly on that which 
is common to both? Or does it identify religions for which the written word is, 
if not paramount, then at least central, particularly in contrast to such other reli¬ 
gious traditions for which any written form is alien? The two possibilities are not 
exclusive: once a specific book occupies a central role, it almost inevitably pro¬ 
vokes the production around it of further writing; this may be in order to ensure 
that it is disseminated, for insiders or outsiders, in the original tongue or through 
translation; particularly with the passage of time, the need for clarification and 
interpretation may become unavoidable and provoke additional “books.” But 
the label “religion of the book” will also invite protest: some will object that “by 
the book alone” engenders an arid, impersonal grasp of what lies at the heart 
of religion; that it obscures the essential core which is experience, and that it 
ignores the lives and practice of the real individuals without whom religion may 
be a purely theoretical construct. 

1 I am grateful to President Torrance and the New Testament Faculty of the Seminary for their 
warm hospitality. The paper has been lightly edited to compensate for the visual images used 
in the original presentation, which do not appear in the current version. 

DOI: 10.3754/1937-8386.2010.31.08 


Between Text and Community 

When we move into antiquity, this last objection acquires further ammunition. 
Estimations of literacy are in any society, even in the present, notoriously unsta¬ 
ble, for literacy itself is not a fixed measurement. Even so, it is generally agreed 
that in the second century, the focus of this paper, only a minority of people were 
literate. 2 Allowing for that fuzziness of definition, a common estimation is that 
10 percent of the population were literate. Moreover, that 10 percent would have 
been concentrated in the particular segment of society that is frequently labeled 
“the elite,” although this can be misleading: it should be remembered that scribal 
proficiency could be a specific skill exercised, for example, by a slave with that 
role in the household. The truly leisured, on the other hand, might expect others 
both to write for them and to read to them. Were things any different in Jew¬ 
ish society? Both Josephus and Philo claim that every adult Jewish male knew 
the Scriptures, and this has led some to suppose that literacy among Jews was 
higher; on the other hand, parallel cases suggest that the existence in society 
of one super-significant written text can hinder rather than promote a broader 
literacy. So, at least one recent study has argued that generally the Jewish popu¬ 
lation mirrored society at large. 3 Christians are unlikely to have been any more 
unusual. Second-century critic of Christianity Celsus accused them of target¬ 
ing the ignorant, the uneducated, the stupid, and, of course, especially women 
(Origen, Against Celsus III.55). It is not necessary to go as far as this, but it still 
seems likely that at least for the first two hundred years the movement made 
only limited inroads into the educated elite, perhaps indicating even lower levels 
of competency in both reading and writing. 

On the other hand, there is a wealth of evidence for the importance of texts and 
writing for both Jews and Christians in this period. An obvious example would 
be the community represented by the Dead Sea Scrolls; even if it constituted 
a special case, hardly a cross section of society, the Scrolls still bear witness 
to a range of textual activity that is not entirely unparalleled elsewhere in the 
Jewish and then in the Christian world. What is significant about that activity is 
that alongside the community-specific literature, such as the Community Rule 
Scroll or War Scroll, there is an extensive body of writings stimulated by and 
dependent on the Scriptures: commentaries, rewritings, for example, of Gen¬ 
esis, new compositions, as well as copies of the scriptural texts themselves, in 
Greek as well as in Hebrew. Some of this material is also specific to this com- 

2 There is now a substantial bibliography; see William V. Harris, Ancient Literacy (Cambridge: 
Harvard University Press, 1989); M. Beard et al.. Literacy in the Roman World. Journal of 
Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series #3 , ed. J. H. Humphrey (Ann Arbor: Journal of 
Roman Archaeology, 2001). 

3 See C. Hezser, Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine. Texts & Studies in Ancient Judaism. 
(Tubingen: Mohr, 2001). 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

munity, such as the commentaries (or Pesharim) on the prophets that interpret 
Nahum or Habakkuk as directly referring to the experience of the community 
itself, and in particular to the hostile or irreligious actions of their opponents. 
Such commentary, especially because it is given authority by the secret revela¬ 
tion given to their revered teacher, would give those who studied them a place 
in divine history and would provide them with a justification for their present 
marginalization at the hands of a majority, a majority who were now scripturally 
demonstrated to be in the wrong. Other texts represent what is now called the 
“Rewritten Bible,” alternative or expanded versions of the stories of the heroes 
of the Torah: Enoch, Noah, and Abraham. Some of these provide links with 
other, similar efforts written in Greek, probably among Jewish communities in 
the Diaspora. Even leaving aside the different phenomena that crystallized into 
the rabbinic literature, there must be a strong expectation that such literary activ¬ 
ity continued in the second century, even if it is more difficult to trace with cer¬ 
tainty. Given time, it would be possible to compare how early Christianity offers 
a similar example of the abundant production of texts, some community-specific 
texts, and others reworking familiar material and genres—although in this case 
most of the evidence points to its being initially only in Greek. 

This rich textual activity and productivity has led both early Judaism and early 
Christianity to be described as “textual communities.” The notion of textual 
communities was initially developed as a way of understanding the changing 
function of literacy in the eleventh and twelfth centuries; here historian Brian 
Stock traced how a text or a body of texts could define and shape a group even if 
that group included only a few members who were literate. These guides would 
interpret the foundational texts and in doing so would provide the group with 
a worldview of their own. Illiterate members of the group would acquire what 
we might call textual skills; through hearing and perhaps passing on orally their 
foundational texts and their authoritative meaning they would practice how texts 
work. 4 Although more space would be needed to trace this out in detail, it is not 
difficult to see how the distinctive worldview fixed in the written texts of both 
Jews and Christians became part of the reality in which they lived; this world¬ 
view often existed in tension with the worldview of their neighbors, which in 
turn was shaped in part by their key texts. 

Worth noting at this juncture is that Stock’s work and his notion of textual com¬ 
munities counsel against the false dichotomy that is sometimes made between 
orality and textuality, between the spoken and heard word and the written word. 

4 B. Stock, Listening for the Text: On the Uses of the Past (Baltimore: John Hopkins University 
Press, 1990). 


Between Text and Community 

As recent work on orality has made clear, it is wrong to think of a linear process, 
of one coming first to be followed by the other, of an oral stage or transmission 
followed by the written form and literacy; neither is one characteristic of some 
groups in society, nor other of others, oral transmission more natural to women 
or to the so-called non-elite, writing the sphere of males and the powerful who 
thus control knowledge. 5 Certainly it is often presented in these terms: the move 
to written texts with the authority given them is analyzed in terms of gender and 
of power. In practice, there is a to and fro between the oral and the written: oral 
retelling continues after and alongside writing down; written accounts, once 
read, generate oral repetition and expansion. This is not to deny that some might 
feel ambivalence about the relationship between what is spoken and what is 
written—consider the competing claims for trust made by the whispered story, 
“gossip,” and what is found printed in the newspaper! A similar ambivalence 
was felt in the ancient world and could be manipulated in different ways. A rich 
example is provided by Paul: in a written letter, 2 Corinthians, he engages in a 
complex reinterpretation of Scripture, “what is written,” in order to extrapolate a 
contrast between the inflexible letter and the unrestrained spirit; yet he refers to 
his readers as “our letter written on our hearts, known and read by all,” although 
he immediately qualifies this as “written not with ink but with the spirit of the 
living God” (2 Cor. 3:l-6). 6 

Obscure early Christian writer Papias wrote five volumes of exegesis on the 
“words of the ‘Lord’”; in the preface he explained how he searched for those 
people who could report about the disciples and their followers “because I con¬ 
sidered that things from books would not benefit me as much as the living and 
abiding voice” (Eusebius, Hist. Eccles III.39.4). That sentiment plays on a com¬ 
monplace in the ancient world but even so may not merely be a conventional 
excuse. 7 The tension becomes entrenched in another form when Paul’s words 
sometimes led later Christian writers to associate Jewish tradition with “the writ¬ 
ten letter,” while the Christian is associated with the spoken, or even proclaimed, 
word—an association that continued to color even scholarly representations of 
Judaism until recent times. There are equally good reasons for reversing this 
opposition: an early Christian author, the writer of the Gospel according to 
John, ended his account of the deeds of Jesus with the words, “These things are 

5 Again there is a growing bibliography; see J. Dewey, ed., Orality and Textuality in Early 
Christian Literature. Semeia 65 (Atlanta: Scholars, 1995). 

6 A further level of complexity would be added if 2 Corinthians is itself a deliberate compila¬ 
tion of earlier written fragments. 

7 L. Alexander, “The Living Voice: Scepticism towards the Written Word in Early Christian 
and in Graeco-Roman Texts,” in D. Clines et al., ed.. The Bible in Three Dimensions. JSOTSS 
87 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990), 221-47. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ” (John 20:31). By contrast, 
as the very name of the “Mishnah” demonstrates, and as is exemplified in Pirke 
Aboth, in the second and third centuries rabbinic Judaism at least is marked by a 
self-conscious ideology of oral transmission. 8 The key theme here is “ideology,” 
the way in which concepts associated with oral and written word are used and 
are appealed to. 

These introductory explorations already bring us to the heart of the subject. 

What has become apparent is that to speak about a religion or a people “of the 
book” is far from straightforward. The relationship between written word and 
people is a complex and a political one; yet it is also one that it is important to 
understand in order to catch something of what is going on in the second cen¬ 
tury, a period so important for the shaping of Jewish and Christian communities 
and of the relationship between them. In what follows I will investigate in par¬ 
ticular two aspects of this process: first, the importance of texts, here especially 
“the book” and the further writings it stimulates, for shaping these communities; 
second, the attempt, which is necessarily more tentative, to discern the actual 
lives of those communities, or specific communities within them, and their use 
of texts. This shall take the form of a series of interconnected snapshots. 

“The Curses Written in Deuteronomy” 

Acmonia in ancient Phrygia lies in an area where there is considerable archaeo¬ 
logical evidence of a Jewish community, starting from the first century CE 
when a non-Jewish dignitary, Julia Severa, helped fund the foundation of the 
synagogue. 9 Among the slightly later remains is a remarkable series of funerary 
stones, mostly dated from the mid-third century CE, a number of which invoke 
curses on anyone who disturbs the grave. So, for example, a much cited stone 
identifies the grave it once marked as by Aurelius Phrougianos and his wife for 
his or her mother and for their daughter; it closes with a severe warning: “If 
anyone will bury another corpse or abuse the grave by purchase he will get the 
curses written in Deuteronomy.” 10 The reference here is clearly to the long string 

8 “Moses received the Torah at Sinai and handed it on to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the 
elders to the prophets; the prophets handed it on to the men of the great assembly. They said 
three things: be deliberate in judgement, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the 
Torah” ( Pirke Aboth 1.1). 

9 See E. Schiirer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C. -A.D. 
135), rev. and ed. G. Vermes, F. Millar, and M. Goodman (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1986) III. 1, 
27-32; R Trebilco, Jewish Communities in Asia Minor. Society for New Testament Studies 
Monograph Series 69 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 58-84. 

10 See W. Ameling, ed., Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis II. Kleinasien. Texts and Studies in 
Ancient Judaism 99 (Tubingen: Mohr, 2004), 364-68 (no. 173); Trebilco, Jewish Communities, 


Between Text and Community 

of curses that Moses utters against all who infringe God’s covenant in Deuter¬ 
onomy 27-28. That none of these are against those who infringe grave rights 
is irrelevant; they serve as unconditional and uncompromising declarations of 
divine judgment. 

This could invite a long list of questions, not all of which can be addressed here; 
for example, the use of curses to protect a tomb is characteristic of this part of 
ancient Asia Minor and is found among all communities—“pagan,” Christian, 
and Jewish—a phenomenon that may be an indication of shared understand¬ 
ings of death. Such practices are also one part of the widespread evidence in 
the world of this time for the summoning of supematurally directed punishment 
against personal enemies, against rivals in love, rivals in ambition, or others. 
Some would want to label this “magic” rather than religion, namely, the manipu¬ 
lation for one’s own benefit of natural and supernatural forces (if these can be 
distinguished); however, a satisfactory and accepted definition of magic is a 
far from straightforward matter, as is its connection with religion (which some 
might define in similar terms). 

Numerous so-called magical texts and artefacts have survived from antiquity, 
and a substantial number of these use more or less recognizable Jewish terms— 
names of angels, variations on the epithets given God—often as names for the 
forces being summoned to carry out the curse, or the blessing, or other action. 

It has to be a matter of debate whether this simply reflects a sense that the more 
“esoteric” and “foreign” something sounds the more effective it is believed to 
be—a common phenomenon—or whether it points to the actual involvement 
of Jewish practitioners. * 11 Scholarship has left behind the older view that such 
evidence could be dismissed as “syncretistic,” and either as symptomatic of the 
degradation of diaspora or Hellenistic Judaism, or as “not really Jewish.” For 
present purposes, the key point is that the curses Aurelius Phrougianos invokes 
appear to gain their effectiveness, not because they were spoken by Moses, who 
was widely associated with magic, but because they are written in Deuteronomy. 
The written text has power. 

61; P. W. van der Horst, Ancient Jewish Epitaphs. Contributions to Biblical Exegesis & Theol¬ 
ogy (Kampen: Kok, 1991), 54-60; H. M. Strubbe, “Curses Against Violation of the Grave in 
Jewish Epitaphs from Asia Minor,” in J.W. van Henten & P. W. van der Horst, Studies in Early 
Jewish Epigraphy, Arbeiten zur Geschichte des Antiken Judentums und des Urchristentums 21 
(Leiden: Brill, 1994), 70-128, 89-92, 115-17. 

11 See G. Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

The inscription is in Greek, and the name “Deuteronomy” presupposes the 
world of the Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures, commonly known as the 
Septuagint, although probably best labeled more simply “the Old Greek,” which 
had presumably long spread throughout the Diaspora. Josephus and Philo take 
this translation for granted, as also did the early Christian writers who wrote in 
Greek. One of the oldest surviving fragments of the Greek Bible, probably to be 
dated to the second century BCE, is of Deuteronomy (pRylands 458). Presum¬ 
ably this or a subsequent translation was read and studied within the Jewish 
community at Acmonia, although how they interpreted it remains among the 
many lacunae in our knowledge of the Diaspora. 

It is therefore left to the imagination to wonder how the inscription with its 
curses “worked.” Some passersby would be able to read the inscription, but 
many more would rely on its being read to them. Because such invectives 
against illegitimate occupation of graves were conventional, most people would 
broadly know what to expect. Perhaps for some the mere identification of 
particular curses would have carried an impressive note regardless of whether 
“Deuteronomy” conveyed anything specific. Yet somewhere within this maze of 
possibilities Deuteronomy itself is known and is making its impact. 

Who was Aurelius Phrougianos? His name reveals little other than that his 
family received citizenship in the early third century; a list of offices held by 
him inscribed on the left side of the monument indicates that he was of some 
stature in city life. It has generally been assumed that he was Jewish, but one 
cannot exclude the fact that he was a Christian—for Deuteronomy was impor¬ 
tant for Christians too. 12 The same applies to his intended target: Was he warn¬ 
ing people who knew the curses to which he was referring? Again, though it is 
often assumed these were Jews, Christians would also identify the reference. 
Indeed, it may be wrong to treat this as a stark alternative: from the surviving 
inscriptions from Asia Minor it is often difficult to distinguish Jewish from 
Christian formulae; the conclusion may—although it does not necessarily— 
follow that there were not always sharp boundaries between the Jewish and 
Christian communities. 13 

On the other hand, the inscription could be taken as evidence that members of 
the gentile population were sufficiently aware of the Jewish Scriptures to take 

12 See Ameling, Inscriptiones, 367-68; Strubbe, “Curses,” 89-92. 

13 See P. Herz, “Einleitung” in P. Herz & J. Kobes, eds., Ethnische und religiose Minderheiten 
in Kleinasien von der hellenistischen Antike bis in das byzantinische Mittelalter (Wiesbaden: 
Harassowitz, 1998), xiii-xx. 


Between Text and Community 

the warning seriously. Indeed, it is not impossible that Phrougianos himself 
was a gentile who was impressed by the sacred writings of the Jews and who 
suspected that they might be powerful. Whatever the origins of the transla¬ 
tion into Greek of the scriptures, they had long made possible some sort of 
dialogue between Jews and non-Jews. The evidence for a detailed familiar¬ 
ity on the part of non-Jews with the Scriptures may be slight, but is not to be 
dismissed. 14 

Moreover, casual visitors to a synagogue, and even more so those with an inter¬ 
est in Jewish practice, would surely have been fully aware of the place of the 
Scripture scrolls. 15 It has often been argued that the importance of written texts 
and their interpretation could make Judaism seem more like a philosophy than 
a religion in the ancient world and that that was why some found it attractive. 
Certainly that is how some Jewish apologists, like Josephus, tried to present it. 
But this epitaph may reveal a different facet of the relationship between text and 
community: both how a text might seem to identify a community, and also what 
uses a community might make of a text—the status a text could give to a com¬ 
munity in an economy of power. 

Justin Martyr 

The curses written in Deuteronomy form a bridge to a very different setting, 
to Justin Martyr and his account of an encounter and debate with a Jew named 
Trypho. The encounter supposedly took place around 135 CE, traditionally but 
not certainly in Ephesus, but Justin wrote it up some fifteen to twenty years later, 
probably in Rome. Dialogue with Trypho is the first surviving example of what 
becomes an important literary tradition in Christian writings, writings “against 
the Jews.” These writings are important for a number of reasons: through them 
can be traced the developing polemic and a growing set of standard accusa¬ 
tions against the Jews. In practice these writings are probably driven at least 
in part by the internal tensions that early Christians experienced as a result of 
their own origins as a movement bom within Judaism and yet one that claimed 
a decisively new message for all people; these tensions could be handled by 
being projected outside. Inevitably, such accounts, even this one by Justin, are 
not documentary records or transcripts; Justin manipulates his dialogue partner 
Trypho throughout and he provides him with his script. Yet, despite this, the 

14 See Tessa Rajak, Translation and Survival: The Greek Bible of the Ancient Jewish Diaspora 
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). 

15 That there were such is certain even if the label “Godfearers” is unhelpful. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

topics they debate are neither whimsy nor purely academic; with careful reading 
through them we can catch glimpses of actual dynamics of social and religious 
relationships. 16 

Well into their debate, Trypho, who has been gradually losing ground, sets out 
the fundamental objection that Jesus cannot be all that the Christians claim for 
him because he died a death subject to a curse as written in the law: “Direct us 
then from the Scriptures so that we may be persuaded by you. Demonstrate to us 
whether he should be crucified and so die shamefully and dishonorable through 
the death which is cursed in the Law. For we cannot arrive at any such view” 
{Dial. 90.1). Neither Trypho nor Justin uses the name “Deuteronomy,” but the 
reference is unmistakably to Deuteronomy 21:23, which stipulates that anyone 
hung on a tree is to be taken down before nightfall, “for anyone hung from a 
tree is under God’s curse.” It is far from certain, and perhaps improbable, that 
an appeal to this verse reflects a genuine Jewish charge, for it works only in 
the Greek version and it is at odds with the tradition of Jewish exegesis of the 
Hebrew original. Paul had appealed to the same verse, also relying on the Greek 
translation, when writing to the Galatians (Gal. 3:13); however, Justin does not 
cite Paul either here or elsewhere, nor does he replicate his argument. Instead he 
responds to Trypho’s invitation by engaging in a series of exegetical gymnas¬ 
tics through other scriptural passages; the result of these is that the verse from 
Deuteronomy not only does not disqualify Jesus, but in fact it is turned against 
the Jews, whom Justin accuses of cursing in their synagogues both Jesus and 
Christians {Dial. 96.2). What is most important for our purposes is that Justin 
understands the issue not just as a matter of how the death of Jesus is to be inter¬ 
preted, or of what the passage from Deuteronomy means; much more fundamen¬ 
tal for him is the question as to who has the key to the correct interpretation of 
all the Scriptures—and he takes it for granted that there can be only one correct 

In the chapters of the Dialogue (98-106) that follow this explanation of Deu¬ 
teronomy Justin cements his claim to correct interpretation by carrying out a 
reading of Psalm 22 (21 LXX). What he does here is to take this psalm as a 
partly coded but partly transparent narrative of Jesus and particularly of Jesus’s 
death; he retells that story not in the sequence of the events as now recorded 
in the canonical gospels but in the sequence of the psalm. Justin does not say, 
as Christians would later claim, that the psalm was fulfilled by Jesus; rather 
he asserts that it was “written with reference to Christ” {Dial. 99.1). Perhaps 

16 See Judith M. Lieu, Image and Reality: the Jews in the World of the Christians in the Second 
Century (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 103-53. 


Between Text and Community 

anticipating that some might query this, at regular intervals he explains that 
something similar was written about Jesus in what he calls “the memoirs of the 
apostles” (100.4; 101.3; 102.5; 103.6, 8; 105.1). It is likely that these mem¬ 
oirs of the apostles either were one or more of the canonical gospels or were 
something like them; in calling them “memoirs,” however, Justin is according 
them only documentary significance, a secondary supporting role. The psalm is 
for him the primary or the controlling text. It might be said that what Justin is 
engaged in is a performance of the written text, of Psalm 22. Although this has 
been set down and transmitted as a written exercise, it is not difficult to imag¬ 
ine it as a spoken or proclaimed one; after all, it was through hearing that most 
people encountered texts. 

On one level this is again a case of differing interpretations being generated by 
distance between the participants, or even of them generating and reinforcing 
that distance. So Justin claims that the Jews apply the psalms to Hezekiah or to 
some other historical figure, and in some cases there is support for this in later 
Jewish exegesis. Yet much more than merely differing interpretations is at stake 
here; for Justin this psalm, and indeed all the scriptures, properly belong to “us,” 
the Christians. Naturally, he knows that Trypho and his other Jewish dialogue 
partners are familiar with the scriptures, but he cannot admit that they in any 
way share them: “They are not yours but ours for we believe them but when you 
read them you do not understand their intention” {Dial. 29.2). Justin even takes 
it for granted that copies of the scriptures would normally be found in what he 
calls “their synagogues”; indeed, it seems likely that he may have consulted 
them there. 17 

Scrolls were expensive and it certainly cannot be assumed that every small 
Christian community would have possessed a full set, if any. Yet, even so, 
Justin goes so far as to assert that the copies that they, the Jews, have are 
defective; he accuses the Jewish teachers of editing their own copies in order 
to cut out key passages that predicted Christ in absolute clarity {Dial. 72-73). 
The example he gives for this is Psalm 95, where he asserts that it should read 
not “The Lord reigns” but “The Lord reigns from the tree.” That, he claims, is 
the original text, the text written by the first translators of the Scriptures into 
Greek; he even appeals here to the story of that translation at the behest of 
Ptolemy, familiar from the Letter of Aristeas and other Jewish texts. In prac¬ 
tice, the reverse is the case: “The Lord reigns” is the earliest form of the text. 

A probable explanation is that in his catechesis as a Christian, Justin received 

17 Lieu, Image and Reality, 126-29. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

appropriate prophetic extracts believed to point to Jesus, extracts which in 
the course of their use and interpretation had become suitably “improved.” 
Conceivably these extracts took the form of written collections, but they may 
equally have been part of oral teaching passed on, or probably a combination 
of these, with the consequence that oral commentary could easily become part 
of the written text. When Justin wanted to extend his scriptural argument and 
inspected copies in the synagogues, he would have found a more authentic text 
in terms of faithfulness to the tradition, but that was something he could hardly 
be expected to recognize. 

Clearly, once again this invites a picture of a complex set of relationships 
between text and community, and community and community. On one level 
this picture might be perceived as a shared text held alongside opposing 
interpretations; this would be similar to, but perhaps more extreme than, the 
conviction held by the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls that the prophecies of 
Nahum referred to them, a conviction that other Jewish groups would have 
rejected. It may have been the case that the reality of the shared text also 
formed the basis of some social realities—as suggested above, Justin may have 
consulted the copies of the scriptures kept in a local synagogue. Initially, such 
a scenario might seem unlikely given his accusations that the Jewish teach¬ 
ers cursed Christ in the synagogues. But it would be wrong to imagine the 
synagogue, or early Christian churches, as buildings that were not very visitor- 
friendly and were used only at certain times of the week for internal religious 

Justin himself seems to have operated more in the framework of a form of 
philosophical school, a teacher with his disciples and other interested listeners. 

In some cases a synagogue perhaps also functioned like this, at least in part, 
a setting where texts could be interpreted and debated. The heat of the debate 
to the extent that it can be overheard through the Dialogue only reinforces the 
central role played by this particular text both for Justin’s circles and for those of 
Trypho—in contrast, for example, to other text-based groups in the ancient city 
where Homer or Plato played the pivotal role. From an outsider’s perspective 
this might look like a single and idiosyncratic if somewhat fractious commu¬ 
nity focused around a single text, “The Scripture.” From Justin’s perspective, 
however, it is a different text, not just because he has, or because he thinks that 
there should be, verses that the others omit but because for him the text and its 
meaning cannot be separated. Texts are not just neutral and stable artefacts: read 
through different eyes, different lenses, they are different texts—different texts 
that generate different communities, communities that will come to be labeled 
“Jews” and “Christians.” 


Between Text and Community 

Reading Joseiua 

A third snapshot returns again to something more tangible, papyrus fragments of 
the book of Joshua in Greek known as Schoyen Papyrus 2648. 18 This papyrus, 
probably originally found at Oxyrhunchus and coming from a monastery in the 
region, apparently was written around 200 CE. In what follows, it will become 
evident that this is a Christian piece of Joshua—not merely claimed by the 
Christians as in the case of Justin but copied by a Christian scribe. 

First, however, it is necessary to sketch the larger story within which this papy¬ 
rus may be a player. An important episode in that story was the translation of 
the Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek in Egypt, where there was a very large 
and important Jewish community, most of whom knew little if any Hebrew. 
Although that process started in the third century BCE with the Torah, before 
long the prophets, including Joshua, would have been added. At that juncture, 
still before the turn of the eras, there was no fixed idea of a canon, of a closed 
group of sacred Scriptures, although the seeds of the idea were sprouting. 
Indeed, at this stage there was no single version even of the books of the Torah, 
for there was no authority or way of ensuring absolute uniformity. 19 As has 
been seen, alongside the Jews of the Diaspora, Christians, who quickly became 
predominately Greek-speaking and certainly Greek-writing, used the Greek 
translation (or translations) of the Scriptures for their own reading, argument, 
and interpretation. 

At this point an older argument was often made that the Christian use of the 
Greek Scriptures led to three results. The first result was said to be that Jew¬ 
ish communities stopped reading the so-called Septuagint and, where Hebrew 
was not known, that they started making and using other Greek translations 
that were much closer to the Hebrew—most notably the translations associated 
with Aquila or with Theodotion. The Septuagint, in this view, was taken over, 
or appropriated, by the Christians. Second, according to this view, the Jewish 
authorities needed to find a way of excluding the sort of Christian rereading 
already traced in Justin. One step in this direction may have been the establish¬ 
ment and closure of a canon, the body of authoritative texts, which effectively 
would exclude the addition of any other subversive texts such as the Christian 
gospels. Some scholars have suggested that the formation of the Mishnah and its 
publication at the beginning of the third century CE might be understood in this 

18 See http://www.schoyencolleetion.eom/GreekNT.htm#2648 , where the image given is of 
Joshua 9:27-11:3 (accessed on February 8, 2011). 

19 See the evidence of the biblical manuscripts among the Dead Sea Scrolls. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

light: it offered its own lens through which the Scriptures were to be interpret¬ 
ed. 20 Whether deliberately or coincidentally, the Christians were at the same 
time, during the second and third centuries, formulating and giving authoritative 
status to their own interpretive lens, the future New Testament. Thus, Mishnah 
and New Testament would represent two parallel developments whose effect 
was to frame the Scriptures and so to make them function differently, read dif¬ 
ferently, and in this way produce different communities. 

Third, according to this view, the difference between the Jewish Scriptures as 
consistently written on scrolls—like most “serious” texts in the ancient world— 
and the emergence of the Christian codex format has to be understood in the 
same fashion. The surprising dominance of the codex format for Christian texts 
on papyrus and parchment even from an early date has provoked widespread 
debate, particularly in view of the fact that elsewhere the codex was only slowly 
adopted for more literary texts. Various solutions have been posited: Did this 
reflect the less literary background and pretensions of the early Christians? Did 
the practice start with a single text, a collection of Paul’s letters, or a gospel, 
which then became a normative pattern? Alternatively, the first model may have 
been the handy collection of prophetic texts, such as was suggested above, that 
Justin used. Or was the codex easier for itinerant preachers to carry around and 
to consult? More important for the argument here is the suggestion that Chris¬ 
tians were in this way deliberately differentiating their practice and their Scrip¬ 
tures from the Jewish use of scrolls. At least one scholar has suggested that in so 
doing the Christians desacralized the Scriptures, taking them out of the world of 
the sacred, authoritative, holy. 21 

Each of the three components of this reconstruction portrays the relationship 
between text and community as taking material form—the type of translation, 
the contents of the Scriptures, or the formation of a further text to be read along¬ 
side them, even the physical, visible format. Each is presented as marking the 
difference between Jewish and Christian communities but also as securing and 
reinforcing that difference. 

20 See Philip S. Alexander, '‘The Formation of the Biblical Canon in Rabbinic Judaism.” in 
Philip S. Alexander & Jean-Daniel Kaestli, ed.. The Canon of Scripture in Jewish and Chris¬ 
tian Tradition. Publications de I’lnstitut romand des sciences bibliques 4 (Lausanne: Editions 
du Z£bre, 2007), 57-80, 77-78. 

21 Frances M. Young, Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture (Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 1997), 12-15. See also L. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Arte¬ 
facts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 43-93. 


Between Text and Community 

The papyrus fragmemt of Joshua, Schoyen 2648, can be located within such 
a scenario. Hence, it comes from a codex and not from a scroll; apparently 
the codex contained only Joshua, allowing no further conclusions regarding 
its relationship with other scriptural books, although the same scribe seems to 
have also copied another codex of Leviticus. However, what makes it undoubt¬ 
edly Christian is the way the name of Joshua is written. A further characteristic 
of many Christian papyri is that they use abbreviations for certain significant 
or technical terms, particularly terms associated with the divine—God, Lord, 
Christ, Savior, Jesus—the so-called nomina sacra. In Schoyen 2648, the words 
“God” and “Lord” are abbreviated in this way, but so is the name “Joshua,” 
which in Greek routinely takes the form “Iesous.” Evidently, only a Christian 
scribe would have seen here a name, “Jesus,” which merited treatment in the 
same way as God and Lord. 

This, too, invites invoking another scenario within that broader narrative. Justin, 
in his conviction that the Scriptures speak of Jesus, found evidence in what 
some might believe to be the most unlikely places. An important text for him 
was Exodus 23:20: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell this people: I am sending my 
messenger before me in order to protect you on the journey, so as to lead you 
into the land which I have prepared for you. Pay attention to him and listen to 
him; do not disobey him, for he will not excuse you; for my name is on him.’” 
Justin’s interpretation of this verse relies on a characteristic style of exegesis of 
a textual conundrum. When “Joshua” first appears in the narrative of Numbers 
he is named “Hoshea,” and Moses is credited with changing this to “Joshua” 
(Num. 13:1-16). Ancient commentators regularly highlighted such problems, 
unlike their modem counterparts, who quickly resort to the presence of different 
literary sources. So, for example, Justin accuses the Jews of paying attention to 
the different spellings of Abram or Abraham and Sarai or Sarah but of failing 
to understand this one. His own explanation is that Moses deliberately renamed 
Joshua, who was to be his successor, and in so doing he not only prefigured 
Jesus but also thus indicated that Jesus bears God’s name, “My name is on him” 
{Dial. 113.2). 

Consequently, it would seem natural to conclude that this papyrus fragment can 
serve as a symbol of the differentiation between Jewish and Christian communi¬ 
ties at the end of the second century: the same text but also in significant ways a 
different text—septuagintal, a codex, with the name of “Joshua/ Jesus” treated as 
a nomen sacrum. 

However, while not questioning the “Christian” character of this papyrus, the 
story may be somewhat more complicated than this approach presupposes. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

Recent scholarship has shown that in fact Jewish communities did continue to 
use Greek versions of the Scriptures, and even the Septuagint, long after it used 
to be thought that the Christians had taken this over. 22 There was not such a 
sharp and decisive separation in their favored translations as used to be thought. 
Furthermore, it is by no means beyond doubt that the use of the codex for the 
Scriptures was a Christian innovation. In the case of copies of the Scriptures 
in Greek in a codex format that do not have any explicitly and indisputably 
“Christian” marks only a circular argument can assume that they must be so. 23 It 
may indeed be that to pose the stark alternative “Jewish or Christian” does not 
reflect the self-understanding of those who produced or those who read these 
texts, who may have claimed both epithets. 

Similarly, the origin of the use of “nomina sacra ,” divine abbreviations, is still 
much debated. Some have suggested that it may have developed from the way 
that Jewish scribes avoided using the divine name when copying the Scriptures 
and used other terms or representations. 24 The development from such a practice 
to the more formulaic and extensive one is hardly straightforward, but neither is 
it inconceivable. This suggests that lines of continuity are as important as sudden 
discontinuous breaks. It is important to take seriously the limited geographical 
spread of the surviving evidence. An intriguing, and as yet unanswerable, ques¬ 
tion is what form Christian Scriptures from the land of the rabbis took: codex or 
scrolls? When rabbinic texts forbid the reading of the books of the heretics, sifrei 
minim , were these recognizable by their different format? 25 

It is sometimes supposed that if Jews and Christians are “religions of the Book,” 
what differentiates them can be embodied in the language that develops in 
Christianity of Old Testament versus New Testament. In this more ecumenical 
age some prefer to speak of Hebrew Scriptures and Christian testament, and 
perhaps encourage meeting and discussion around them. Such labeling runs the 
risk of provoking new misunderstandings, and it is not immaterial that this paper 
has barely mentioned “New Testament,” even while speaking of a distinctive 
“Christian Scripture.” 

22 Rajak, Translation, 278-313. 

23 For example, PKoln 967, a codex from c. 200CE; see 
NRWakademie/papyrologie/PTheol 1 .html#daniel. 

24 Professor Robert Kraft of the University of Pennsylvania has done much to challenge overly 
hasty assumptions. See his home page, at 

25 For example, tYad. 2.13; bSabb 116a—b. It is disputed whether or not this refers to the Chris¬ 
tian gospels in some cases. 


Between Text and Community 

In this formative period of the second century it becomes evident that the text is 
more than simply the words modem people read from printed Bibles, essen¬ 
tially the same each time they buy a new copy; in the ancient world texts are 
fluid and unstable. The text can encompass different meanings and it can work 
or function in different ways. On the other hand, readings of the text do gener¬ 
ate difference and sustain difference, and that difference becomes embodied in 
particular groups. 

In the complex processes of the second century that led to the emergence of 
Judaism and Christianity, texts certainly did play a vital role. Yet such “isms” or 
“ities” are abstract and difficult to conceptualize. It is by recognizing in principle 
and by encountering through chance examples the interplay of texts and read¬ 
ers that we may enter into the social mix of the daily lives of the peoples of the 
book. 26 ^ 

26 An earlier form of this lecture was given at the Henry M. Jackson School of International 
Studies, University of Washington, for whose hospitality I am most grateful. 



God among the Gods: Defining Deity in a Differentiated 
Religious Context 

by Patrick D. Miller 

Patrick D. Miller is Charles T. Haley Professor of Old Testament Theology 
Emeritus. He delivered this lecture as the second lecture of the Stone Lectures, 
on October 4, 2010, in the Main Lounge. 1 


lthough I grew up in a family deeply rooted in the Reformed tradition and 
constantly reading and learning the psalms, I do not recall encountering Psalm 
82 until I was in graduate school, where I was given it as an exegesis assign¬ 
ment. It was not like anything else I knew of in the Psalter or, for that matter, in 
the rest of the Old Testament. Now, of course, there are connections, and I want 
to speak about them, but the psalm seemed to me to be sui generis. It still does, 
and though I have written about it in other contexts, 2 1 continue to be drawn to it 
and feel not only its uniqueness but its power and significance. 

I am not alone in that regard. In The Birth of Christianity , New Testament 
scholar John Dominic Crossan has called this psalm ‘‘the single most impor¬ 
tant text in the Christian Bible.” 3 That is a large claim for any text—and very 
interesting coming from a Jesus scholar such as Crossan. Whether one agrees 
with him or not, he manages to whet one’s appetite for looking at this relatively 
obscure and fairly unique text. 

1 A shorter version of this lecture, delivered at the University of Heidelberg, May 7, 2010, is to 
appear in the journal Evangelische Theologie. 

2 See P. D. Miller, Interpreting the Psalms (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), 120-24. 

3 John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years 
Immediately after the Execution of Jesus (San Francisco: HarperS anFrancisco, 1998), 575. Cf. 
J. Clinton McCann Jr., “The Single Most Important Text in the Entire Bible: Toward a Theol¬ 
ogy of the Psalms,” in Rolf Jacobson, Soundings in the Theology of Psalms: Perspectives and 
Methods in Contemporary Scholarship (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011), 63-75. 

DOI: 10.3754/1937-8386.2010.31.08 


God among the Gods 

The One and the Many 

In some respects, Psalm 82 is the closest thing we have in the scriptures to a truly 
mythological piece, a poem that is set entirely in the world of the gods. And it 
is couched in a way that suggests it represents a turning point in the history of 
religions. That is, one cannot deal with this text without seeing in its structure 
and movement a proposal for how one is to view the divine world, the world of 
the gods, one that suggests some movement and not simply a mute and unchang¬ 
ing reality. Of course, the movement may be very much a perception from the 
human perspective, but certainly in this text, that movement and change take 
place entirely in the divine world. Maybe one should take that seriously and see 
a mythological playing out or enactment of what has happened in the history of 
religions. Though there is much to this psalm that cannot be explored in our time 
frame, I want to look at how it goes about defining deity in its complexity and 
in its essential character. And to begin with the complexity, I am reminded of a 
statement of ethicist James Luther Adams, who said “We belong to a cosmos that 
is social.” 4 That is, the interaction and relationship of the one and the many is not 
simply an issue in the ethics of the human but belongs to all of reality, including 
the divine world. And it does not necessarily begin with the Trinity. 

Psalm 82 

'God has taken his place in the divine council [“council of El”] in the midst of 
the gods he holds judgment: 

2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? 

3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the 

4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” 

5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; 
all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 

6 I say, “You are gods, children [sons] of the Most High, all of you; 

Nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince. 

4 James Luther Adams, “The Love of God,” in On Being Human Religiously: Selected Essays in 
Religion and Society, ed. and introduced by Max Stackhouse (Boston: Beacon Press, 1976), 96. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you! 

In Psalm 82, there are at least four perspectives discernible on the relationship 
between God and the gods. 

1. The God of Israel, YHWH, or the Lord, is seen at the beginning of the psalm 
as a member of the divine council, one among the gods. In “the council of El,” 
that is, the council of the high god, El, executive of the pantheon, well-known 
from the mythological literature of ancient Ugarit, the Lord, here named or 
called Elohim—I shall come back to that—takes his stand, that is, rises out of 
the divine world of which he is understood to be a part and begins to judge the 
gods (the elohim). That is, the psalm suggests a picture of YHWH/Elohim as 
being a part of and coming out of the gods. We hear echoes of such a perspec¬ 
tive outside the Psalter. In the ancestral narratives of Genesis, the high god El 
is associated with the gods of the ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and 
Jacob; in Exodus we hear God tell Moses that “I am the Lord. I appeared to 
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, God Almighty, but by my name “The 
Lord (YHWH)” I did not make myself known to them” (Exod. 6:1). It is quite 
possible, if not likely, that in some fashion YHWH/Adonai is a split off from El. 
It is not surprising, therefore, that the El names and epithets are appropriated and 
acceptable in Israel’s religion. That is where YHWH comes from. 

2. If, however, as Psalm 82 suggests, the Lord comes out of the world of the 
gods, it is also the case that YHWH shares with the gods of the nations common 
functions and responsibilities and in the process of this court scene takes over 
the divine world and its responsibilities so that what belonged to the gods now 
becomes solely vested in YHWH, the Lord. The psalm also suggests, there¬ 
fore—or we may infer—a relationship in which the gods and their character are 
in YHWH. Taking over the divine realm involves appropriating the aspects and 
responsibilities of all the gods. There is an interesting intimation of this within 
the language of the psalm. The Tetragrammaton, the divine name YHWH, does 
not appear anywhere in the psalm, where the divine name is given as Elohim (vv. 
1, 8), as is the case often in the Old Testament. That feature can be handled liter- 
arily by observing that Psalm 82 belongs to what is called the Elohistic Psalter, 

a group of psalms that show a preference for the word “elohim” over the Tetra¬ 
grammaton when referring to the God of Israel (Pss. 42-83). In this particular 
psalm, however, the Elohim name does more. One becomes aware of the ambigu¬ 
ity of the term, how it can be proper name, “Elohim,” or common noun, “gods,” 
either singular— referring to the God of Israel, as it does twice in the psalm—or 
plural, referring to all the other gods, as it also does twice in Psalm 82. By using 
the word “elohim” in these ways, the psalm reminds us that the term is always 


God among the Gods 

capable of pointing to something more or other. It is a literary way of reminding 
us that the gods are in YHWH and YHWH is part of the elohim. 

Confirmation of this absorption of other deities or their characteristics is evident 
in the Psalms and elsewhere. A classic example is the presentation of the Lord as 
the storm god in Psalm 29: “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of 
glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters” (v. 3). Long ago H. L. Ginsburg 
argued that this psalm is a Canaanite hymn to Baal, the only change being the 
replacement of the name “Baal” with the Tetragrammaton, a point that finds its 
confirmation when the replacement is reversed and the three consonants of the 
Hebrew name Baal are reinserted. 5 Then one will find heavy repetition and word 
play with those three consonants throughout the psalm, clearly suggesting the 
likelihood that the original divine figure of the psalm was Baal, whose character 
as the god of the storm has been fully absorbed into YHWH. 6 But one does not 
encounter YHWH in the Old Testament as one particular kind of deity, god of 
storm, mountain deity, personal god, warrior god, etc. There is not a peculiar 
character to this deity. The possibilities are too numerous, for there are few if 
any aspects of the cosmos and its rule and governance that are not explicitly 
associated with YHWH. 

3. What is most obvious in the psalm, of course, is the confrontation and conflict 
between the Lord, that is, YHWH/Elohim and the gods , which ends with his con¬ 
demning them to death as he assumes sole rule, the Lord against the gods. While 
the critical term for “gods” is debatable at the beginning of Psalm 58, it seems to 
reflect the kind of judicial metaphor for the conflict between God and the gods 
that we have in Psalm 82. It begins: 

Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? 

Do you judge people fairly? 

No, in your hearts you devise wrongs; 

Your hands deal out violence on earth. 

Then the psalm proceeds to describe the actions of the wicked. 

The wicked go astray from the womb; 

They err from their birth, speaking lies. 

5 H. L. Ginsburg, Kitve wgrvt [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: The Bialik Foundation, 1936), 129 ff. Cf. 
Frank M. Cross Jr., “Notes on a Canaanite Psalm in the Old Testament,” Bulletin of the Ameri¬ 
can Schools of Oriental Research 117 (1950): 19 ff. 

6 Cf. Aloysius Fitzgerald, “Note on Psalm 29,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental 
Research 215 (1974): 61-63. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

They have venom like the venom of a serpent, 

Like the deaf adder that stops its ear ... 

If the opening reference is to the gods, as seems likely, then we have much the 
same thing going on in Psalm 58 as in Psalm 82, an indictment of the gods for 
their failure to stop the wicked from carrying out their evil deeds. We should 
note in passing that this judicial metaphor is prominent in Deutero-Isaiah as 
the Lord summons the gods into the courtroom in order to demonstrate their 
inability to act as gods in declaring and bringing about what is to happen. The 
outcome is the disappearance of the gods as a delusion (Isa. 41:21-29). 

4. The relationship between God and the gods, however, is not finally one of 
conflict. As Psalm 82 comes to an end, there is at least an implicit claim that 
the Lord will rule over the gods of the nations —“Rise up, O God, judge the 
earth, for all the nations belong to you”—a dominance manifest and reflected in 
a righteous rule of the earth and attested elsewhere in the psalms, particularly 
in that climactic group of psalms that declare “the Lord reigns” over all, the 
Enthronement Psalms of Book IV (Pss. 93 and 95-99). Assertions of the Lord’s 
reign over the gods are not confined to the Enthronement Psalms, however. As 
Book III of the Psalter comes to an end in Psalm 89, the question “Who among 
the heavenly beings is like the Lord?” is asked and immediately answered: 

“God feared in the council of the holy ones, great and awesome above all that 
are around him.” Such a claim, echoed in Psalm 29, “Ascribe to the Lord, you 
divine ones, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength,” makes it clear that the gods 
have been turned into worshippers of the Lord; the occupants of both heaven and 
earth bow down before the maker of earth. 

Psalm 82 suggests to us, therefore, a way of viewing the reality of God that is 
open to complexity and differentiation, to continuity and discontinuity while 
also claiming and insisting on unity and order. Nowhere in the rest of scripture 
do we get so clear a picture of the divine council as a socio political order sug¬ 
gesting complexity in the divine world while also insisting on the one rule of 
the one God as shaping and directing it. The divine assembly continues to be 
a significant feature of Israel’s religious conviction and of the scriptures that 
portray it. So in the creation narratives, divine commands are several times “Let 
us make...” and “Let us go down and see.” When Isaiah is called, the Lord on 
the throne, surrounded by the seraphim says: “Whom shall I send, and who will 
go for us?” And in Micaiah’s vision of the heavenly assembly, there is discus¬ 
sion and planning that takes place among the participants (1 Kings 22). The 
condemnation of the gods to mortality does not mean the end of the complexity 
of divinity; the cosmos is still social. 


God among the Gods 

Defining Deity 

The Living God 

Out of this complex and sociopolitical world as one sees it in Psalm 82 come 
two critical matters in regard to defining and distinguishing the God who takes 
over from the other gods. One aspect of that distinction is the difference between 
the living God and the dying gods. The mortality of the other gods conjoins 
with what the Psalms and other texts say about idols and images. The latter have 
no power. They are, as Psalm 115 and other psalms put it, “the work of human 
hands... They have mouths but do not speak; eyes but do not see...” They are 
powerless. The second aspect is the claim of Psalm 82 and the rest of scripture 
that God lives. Several things need to be observed about that claim: 

1. The notion that God is dead or may be dead is not an invention of modem phi¬ 
losophy or a passe theological movement of the 1960s. It was one of the liveliest 
issues in the ancient world. 

2. The conception of God as living is a part of general characterization of deity 
in the ancient Near East. The expression we hear in Psalm 18:45, “The Lord 
lives,” corresponds to the jubilation cry in Ugaritic-Canaanite myth, “Baal 
lives” after the earlier cry “Baal is dead.” Related to this is language about God 
sleeping. In a mythological context, God’s resurrection was God’s “awaking.” 
The psalms take over this kind of language to call for effective power from the 
Lord. The call to God to awake is frequent in the psalms. So in Psalm 44:23: 
“Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever.” 
In two instances, the call to the Lord to awake is in order to bring about justice, 
for example, Psalm 7:6: “Awake, O my God, you have appointed a judgment 
[or commanded justice]”; and Psalm 59:5: “Wake up! Bestir yourself for my 
defense ( mishpat ), for my cause, my God and my Lord.” Sleep is in this con¬ 
text a picture for the attitude of the Deus absconditis , of God who is silent and 
does not intervene, who has not yet evidenced life and power to the oppressed. 
Because sleep was the time when the divine power was broken and ineffective, 
the psalmist claims in one of the most beloved of all psalms: “The one who 
keeps you will not slumber. Behold the one who keeps Israel will neither slum¬ 
ber nor sleep” (Ps. 121). 

3. The language “God lives,” or “the Lord lives,” which we find in Psalm 18:46, 
occurs most often in the oath “As the Lord lives,” a usage that points to God as 
witness and judge. It places the most serious matters under the confession and 
conviction of the living God, that is, the claim that nothing of weight matters 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

or happens except out of the reality that God is living, dynamic, and capable, 
effecting everything. It is, in a sense, an acknowledgment of the truth of the 
mythological claim that when God dies, everything else dies (e.g., Baal’s death 
means the dying of the natural world without water). To say “God lives,” or 
“as God lives,” when we say something is also a testimony to the seriousness 
and truthfulness of what one says, a willingness to place one’s words and being 
under the watchful and powerful presence of a living God, knowing with the 
author of the Hebrews that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living 
God” (Heb. 10:31). 

4. With this notion of the living God, several things are claimed or inferred: a) 
What is living is more than a memory. The living God means a present reality, 
b) Whatever is living is not subject to our control, c) Whatever is living makes 
demands on us. And d) to speak of God as living is to speak of God as involved 
with the rest of life. Here is where the notion, central to the psalms, of God’s 
responsiveness to the human situation comes in: God’s passion and compassion, 
suffering and pain. The rule and power of God is never broken—it may be hid¬ 
den. Clearly, as we see in the psalms, Israel wrestled with the problem of deus 
absconditus\ that is all through the psalms. But it was for Israel deus abscondi- 
tus, God hidden, not deus mortuus, God dead, as it was for Baal—and, accord¬ 
ing to Psalm 82, for the whole divine world. In the ancient world, gods died and 
even came back to life. Something rather different, however, happens in Psalm 
82. For this is not the story of the death of a god; it is a judgment against the 
whole divine realm that condemns it to mortality, to death, so that the power and 
effectiveness of the gods is no longer possible. They are like human beings. The 
living God has condemned the gods to death. Their power is gone. 

Justice for the Poor 

Perhaps the most important word of the psalm, however, and the definitive 
answer it gives to how one defines deity is found in the reason why the gods 
are condemned to mortality. It is anything but obscure. Indeed the point is 
underscored by repetitive speech in a way that few texts, ancient or contem¬ 
porary, demonstrate so clearly. The most obvious of the repeated words is the 
verb shaphat, “to judge, to do justice,” occurring four times in the psalm, at the 
beginning and the end, with regard to the work of the God who takes over in this 
psalm. That is, God’s speech against the gods, Elohim’s death sentence pro¬ 
nounced on the gods—“In the midst of the Gods he holds judgment” (v. 1)—is 
an act of judgment and justice. So also at the end of the psalm, the future work 
of God and the hope of all the earth is for God to enact justice for and upon all 


God among the Gods 

nations: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth” (v. 8). In marked distinction from this 
strong identity of Elohim with the enactment of justice is what we hear about the 
rest of the gods. Again the word for justice and judgment is used twice, once in 
Elohim’s query to the council of the gods, “How long will you judge unjustly?” 
with its counterpart in the next verse, “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; 
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute (vv. 2-3).” 

With these verses we encounter the other large category of repetitive speech: 
five different terms (with one repeated) for the weak and the poor. It is not pos¬ 
sible to differentiate sharply between the terms, as they all have to do with the 
weak, the needy, and the poor, some of them more precise, as in reference to the 
orphan. The other terms, however, are all capable of identifying members of the 
community who are impoverished, weak, and/or needy in some fundamental 
way, specifically, in need of material and/or legal assistance. 

“Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and 
the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the 
wicked” (vv. 2-3). 

It is difficult to imagine a more explicit way of defining what is missing in the 
divine world, what role defines deity in a life or death way. It is the provision of 
justice for the weak and the poor when what is happening is injustice and prefer¬ 
ential treatment for the wicked, the term in the Psalter which, from the first verse 
onward, is the all-encompassing term to describe the rich and powerful who 
oppress the weak and the poor. Psalm 1 begins: “Blessed is the one who walks 
not in the way of the wicked,” and Psalm 82 says this is the fundamental issue 
on which the world hangs. The rule of the cosmos is oriented toward the wicked, 
which means injustice toward the weak and the poor. The destiny of the gods, of 
the rule of the universe, now hangs on this one thing: justice for the poor. There 
is no catalogue of divine sins, no internal conflict in the divine council. It is all 
reduced to a single issue. Even when the text goes on to speak of the gods as 
having “neither knowledge nor understanding,” that is a reference to their mal¬ 
administration of justice, as we know from Deuteronomy where those who are to 
be chosen as judges should be persons who are “wise, disceming/understanding, 
and knowing” (Deut. 1:13). 

It is not just the fate of the gods that is at stake. The fate of the universe is at risk 
in the face of the failures of its rulers to rule justly, as we hear at the end of verse 
5: “All the foundations of the earth are shaken.” When justice for the weak does 
not happen in the divine world, the outcome is literally earth-shaking: world 
disruption and deity-dying, one an outcome, the other a permanent effect. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

Although this psalm is unique and unusual even as it is direct and explicit, I 
would like to show how it resonates with so much of the rest of the Psalter. To 
some extent all that happens in the Psalter is accounted for in this psalm. It may 
not be in any technical, literal, or redactional sense the center of the Psalter, 
but it is the foundation on which most of it rests. Let me give three examples to 

First, the largest single group of psalm types is the genre of lament, essentially 
a prayer for help. It is precisely the outcry of the weak and the poor, the power¬ 
less and the needy, who live in a world where the wicked, referred to over eighty 
times in the psalms, are often shown partiality. The legal codes of the Bible refer 
to the outcry and God’s listening specifically with regard to the orphan and the 
widow (Exod. 22:21-24) and the poor and needy (Deut. 15:9; 24:14-15). One 
may and should assume that although we often do not have any clear or specific 
way of defining the one who prays such a prayer as these lament psalms, the 
voice is that of the poor, the weak and the needy, the orphan and the widow who 
cry out for justice, as, for example, at the beginning of Psalm 86: “Incline your 
ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy,” and whose voice is heard 
and answered, as seen, for example, in Psalm 9:12: “He does not forget the cry 
of the afflicted.” Their cry is for justice (Ps. 7:8, “Judge me, O Lord, according 
to my righteousness”), to be rescued and delivered, to be saved from the oppres¬ 
sion of the wicked (Ps. 9:9, “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed”). What 
the gods have not done, according to Psalm 82, what Elohim has called for (v. 1) 
and is called to (v. 8), that is what most of these prayers are about. 

Second, and in similar fashion, one of the primary themes of the Psalter, present 
in both the lament prayers and in the songs of thanksgiving and praise, is that 
the Lord is the one who will judge and deal justly. From Psalm 7, with its claim 
that “God is a righteous judge,” to Psalm 113, with its depiction of the Lord who 
“raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap,” the justice 
and compassion of God for the weak and the poor is central to the theology of 
the Psalter, to its portrayal of the Lord of the psalms. Nowhere is this view of 
Elohim/YHWH more pronounced than in Psalms 93 through 99, commonly 
called Enthronement Psalms because of their declaration that the Lord is king, 
a theme that some have argued provides the theological center of the psalms. 7 
More than any other group, these psalms declare the exaltation of the Lord/ 
Elohim above all the gods: “For the Lord is a great God and a great King above 

7 James L. Mays, “The Center of the Psalms: ‘The Lord Reigns’ as Root Metaphor,” in James 
L. Mays, The Lord Reigns: A Theological Handbook to the Psalms (Louisville: Westminster 
John Knox Press, 1994), 12-22. 


God among the Gods 

all gods” (95:3); “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be 
revered above all gods” (96:4-5); “all gods bow down before him” (97:9). Elo- 
him’s takeover of the divine world, that glimpse into the divine world that Psalm 
82 gives us, is now the presupposition of all the psalms and to which they all 
bear witness. The Lord is king and the rule of this king is just and compassion¬ 
ate. That is attested from the beginning (Ps. 9:7-8, 16-18) to the end (Ps. 146:7— 
10) but is especially the climactic declaration of the Psalter in the Enthronement 
Psalms. There we hear echoes of the last verse of Psalm 82: “Rise up, O judge 
of the earth.” In the midst of the Enthronement Psalms, the psalmist in Psalm 94 
asks: “Who rises up for me against the wicked?” Psalms 96 and 98 conclude and 
climax with the declaration: “For he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge 
the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity,” in both cases making 
this expectancy follow upon the announcement that the Lord is king. Psalm 99 
makes the definitive claim, “Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established 
equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob,” and Psalm 97 
reminds us that “righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” 
None of this is confined to these psalms, however. So in Psalm 76:8-9 we hear: 
“From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still when 
God rose up to establish judgment, to save all the oppressed of the earth.” 

Perhaps the climactic echo of Psalm 82 is the word we hear in response to the 
announcement in Psalm 82:5 that because the gods do not know or understand 
and walk in darkness, the foundations of the earth are shaken. Now we hear 
twice, in Psalm 93 and 96, that the Lord is king; he has established the world; 
it shall never be shaken. The endangerment of the universe by the absence of 
justice in the world is overcome by the just rule of the Lord. The prophets call 
for justice in the land. The psalms tell us the world hangs by that thread, that 
the godness of God depends upon the execution of justice to deliver the weak 
and the poor. No wonder the Lord says “my wrath will bum” when the abused 
widow and orphan “cry out to me” (Exod. 22:24). God’s own reputation, God’s 
own divinity depends on what happens when that cry goes up. 

The third reflection of the new world after Psalm 82 and the reinforcement of its 
definition of deity is the role of the king as we find it in the royal psalms. The 
rule of the human king is the preeminent imitatio dei. Reflected in broad terms in 
a psalm such as Psalm 101, which begins, “I will sing of hesed and mishpat, of 
steadfast love and justice” and ends with the declaration: “Morning by morning I 
will destroy all the wicked in the land.” The clearest and most explicit presenta¬ 
tion of the rule of the king as an imitation of the rule of the deity is Psalm 72. It 
begins with the call: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness 
to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

with justice... May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliver¬ 
ance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. ” Then the psalm goes on at length 
with prayers for blessing upon the king: “May he live while the sun endures. 

May he have dominion from sea to sea. May all kings bow down before him, 
all nations give him service.” Why should such enduring, rich, and universal 
rule be the outcome for this king? Verse 12 is very explicit about that: “Because 
he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. 

He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.” The 
rationale for all the blessings before and after these verses is the king’s just rule 
in behalf of the poor and the needy. What defines divine rule defines human rule. 
Furthermore, the prosperity and flourishing of human society depends solely 
upon this one factor: maintenance of justice to save the weak and the poor. 

So it is that in Psalm 82 a significant and unprecedented theological step is 
taken—the death of all the gods. Its basis is the moral behavior of the human 
community, more particularly, the presence or absence of justice defined by what 
happens to the weak, the powerless, the poor members of society, or, one might 
say, how the systems of order provide for the right of such persons. And that is 
not simply a matter for the human realm. The very claim to deity rests upon the 
question of whether or not the gods have carried out such moral supervision, 
insuring the presence of justice in the human communities for which they are 

The point of the psalm in a sense, that is, by its story or narrative character, is 
that henceforth Israel is to view the world as directed by a single moral purpose, 
reflected in the God that it has come to know in its experience. There are not 
ultimate powers at work in competition with each other or ruling in different 
spheres. There is only one Lord of the universe, and the claim to be the only one 
rests upon this God’s insistence on a justice-shaped universe. Psalm 82 is a story, 
literally, of how the divine world was forced into radical change in the face of 
human injustice and oppression of the poor. On that day the gods died because 
they did not sustain a world where justice and deliverance for the weak and the 
needy could be maintained. Christian faith and Judaism have lived ever since 
with the moral burden of monotheism. It is there in every theodicy issue, and 
Psalm 82 says God wants to be judged precisely on these grounds, as it con¬ 
cludes: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth.” Maybe this is the most important text 
in the Bible. If not, it may be the most disturbing, m 



Configuring the Text in Biblical Studies 

by Hindy Najman 

Hinday Najman is Director of the Centre for Jewish Studies and Associate 
Professor of Ancient Judaism, Department and Centre for the Study of Religion, 
University’ of Toronto. She delivered the Thompson Lecture on February 16, 
2010, in Mackay Campus Center. 

I. Introduction 

J. begin with a well-known diary entry from Kierkegaard, which I will take the 
liberty, for the purposes of this paper, of rewriting: “Philosophy is perfectly right 
in saying that life must be understood backwards. But then one forgets the other 

clause—that it must be lived forwards.” 1 In order to broaden the point’s signifi¬ 

cance, I propose to rewrite Kierkegaard’s first sentence as follows: “Historical 
approaches are perfectly right in saying that life must be understood backwards.” 
After all, the philosophy Kierkegaard has in mind is the Hegelian variety, which 
takes a historical approach. There is no reason why the point should be essen¬ 
tially about philosophy. And, in order to apply the point more concretely to a 
specific historical approach of crucial importance to biblical studies, I propose 
a second rewriting: “Philology is perfectly right in saying that texts must be 
understood backwards. But then one forgets the other clause—that texts are both 
products and constituents of lives lived forwards.” Now I am in a position to 
raise two pairs of questions. First: Must philology understand texts backwards? 
Can it not also understand texts forwards, in the process of their formation? 
Second: Are the lives of which texts are both products and constituents always 
lived forwards? Can they not, in some way, be lived backwards, in relation to a 
past that can be remade? 

1 Soren Kierkegaard. Diary of Sore n Kierkegaard, ed. Peter Rohde, trans. Gerda Anderson 
(NewYork: Philosophical Library, 1960), 111. 

DOI: 10.3754/1937-8386.2010.31.09 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

Here I want to sketch a new project that investigates the connections between: 1) 
the formation of texts, corpora, and discourses; 2) the formation of the concept 
of the personality to whom these textual units come to be ascribed; and 3) the 
formation of the personality of the reader of these textual units. 

Biblical philology (which has traditionally been understood to mean textual and 
historical criticism) has sought, for the most part, to understand backwards. It 
has focused on reconstructing and undoing the formation of textual units, in 
search of the authentic original that is assumed to lie buried beneath layers of 
error and accretion. Meanwhile, ascriptions of biblical and parabiblical texts 
have been treated mainly as pseudo-historical claims about the origination of 
these texts, or occasionally as exegesis that is posterior to the existence of the 
texts. The linkage between ascription and text formation—not to mention the 
connection between these two and the formation of readers—has been almost 
entirely neglected in recent work. 

However, a brilliant classical philologist anticipated the idea of such a con¬ 
nection in the nineteenth century. His innovation remained without impact for 
a century and, to this day, its impact on biblical studies remains small. This is 
something I should like to change. To this end, I will argue, first, that textual 
formation need not only be understood backwards. It may also be understood 
forwards. I will then explore the almost forgotten nineteenth-century suggestion 
that textual formation is connected to the formation of authorial personalities. 
Finally, I will illustrate the reciprocal dynamic between textual formation and 
authorial formation, along with its significance for reader formation, by consid¬ 
ering two important figures: Moses and Ezra. 

Part I: Text Formation 

Current approaches to textual formation in biblical studies remain deeply 
indebted to major developments that occurred between 1780 and 1850. It is 
worth noting that in this period, philology crossed boundaries between sacred 
and secular, and between antiquity and the Middle Ages. What connected bibli¬ 
cal and classical studies in particular was the sense that both continued to play 
central roles in the formation and self-understanding of the modem West. If the 
Hebrew Bible, along with the New Testament, was the sacred source of religious 
self-understanding, then the Homeric corpus was nonetheless a secular source of 
both aesthetic and ethical norms (so much so that it sometimes seemed to give 
rise to a new paganism, as we see in the case of Goethe). Today these boundar¬ 
ies are treated far too often as impassable. But we still have a deep investment 


Configuring the Text in Biblical Studies 

in finding fruitful relations to both biblical and classical pasts, and there is still 
fertile ground for cross-pollination between the disciplines. 

The late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century developments in philology 
that I mentioned above are typically retrospective. They seek to understand texts 
backwards in a quest for the originals. However, I believe that these develop¬ 
ments can be separated from this retrospective orientation. Though a quest for 
original texts is perfectly legitimate, this is not the only legitimate approach. Just 
as textual formation is lived forwards, it can also be understood forwards. 2 

In the late eighteenth century, two scholars, both trained in philology at Got¬ 
tingen, set out in quest of the original texts underlying the Hebrew Bible (or 
the Old Testament) and the Homeric corpus. Their quests did not succeed. But 
they found something else of great importance along the way: the history of the 
text in antiquity, a history that can be understood not only backwards but also 

Johann Gottfried Eichhom (1753-1827) blazed the trail. Employing an exten¬ 
sive knowledge not only of the Septuagint, but also of rabbinic and masoretic 
sources, as well as information about the material conditions of writing in antiq¬ 
uity, he reached the pessimistic conclusion that it was impossible to reconstruct 
the original text: “The compilers of our canon, who brought to their labors nei¬ 
ther the inspiration of the Holy Spirit nor the aids of critical skill, have delivered 
to us not merely the materials they were in possession of, but also the shape 
of those materials; must not then faults occur in the original exemplar [Origi- 
nalexemplar ], from which our copies are derived, for which there is no longer 
any remedy? In short, our critical apparatus where unnecessary is superfluously 
abundant, and elsewhere poor and remediless where we are in the greatest need 
of its assistance.” 3 

Friedrich August Wolf (1759-1824) followed Eichhom’s lead. In what was 
intended as a prolegomenon to a new edition of Homer, Wolf used recently 
published scholia of the Alexandrian grammarians, where Eichhom had used 
the rabbinic and masoretic notes. Like Eichhom—and unlike Villoison, who 

2 Of course, we must seek this understanding from our own moment in history. So we cannot 
help the fact that our understanding is to some extent always also backwards, and we must 
constantly challenge ourselves to overcome the pitfalls of anachronism. 

3 Johann Gottfried Eichhom, Introduction to the Study of the Old Testament, trans. Christine G. 
Reeve (London: Spottiswood and Co., 1888), 232. [Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 4th ed.]. 
Gottingen: Rosenbusch, 1823, 1:383-84. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

published the scholia—Wolf reached the pessimistic conclusion that the original 
text lay beyond our reach. 

The pessimism of Eichhom and Wolf did not, of course, signal the impossibility 
of understanding textual formation backwards. By 1850, a number of scholars 
had helped to formulate a new, attainable goal for the reconstruction of ancient 
texts, along with what came to be called “Lachmann’s method.” 4 If one could 
not reach the Urtext, one might nevertheless reconstruct what Eichhom had 
called the “original exemplar, from which our copies are derived”—what came 
to be called the archetype. Setting aside some technical issues that need not 
concern us here, we may follow Ronald Hendel in characterizing the archetype 
as “the earliest inferable textual state.” 5 Whether there is one such archetype 
or many is an empirical question depending on the particular case. The crucial 
point, for my purposes, is that only a relatively late, if still quite ancient arche¬ 
type was seen to be within reach: the Homer of the Alexandria in the third to 
second century BCE; the masoretic Hebrew Bible of the early middle ages; the 
New Testament of the fourth century CE. 6 

In any event, it remains true that textual criticism remains retrospective in orien¬ 
tation: we understand backwards. In HendeTs words, “A critical text attempts to 
turn back the hands of time, a nostalgic gesture perhaps, but one that restorers of 
other works of human hands will recognize.” 7 Must we understand backwards? 

Is it not also possible to understand the history of textual formation forwards? 

One obstacle preventing such a reorientation is the assumption that textual varia¬ 
tions are all to be regretted. We find this assumption, for example, in the follow¬ 
ing sentence by Frank Moore Cross: “The sole way to improve a text, to ferret 
out error, is to trace the history of readings, to determine an archetype which 
explains or makes transparent the introduction of error or corruption.” 8 From this 
perspective, the history of readings is a history of errors and corruptions. 

4 In fact, as Sebastiano Timpanaro showed, it is questionable whether this is strictly speaking a 
method, as it hardly renders judgment redundant; and it is in any event not the product of Karl 
Lachmann alone, or even principally. See Timpanaro. The Genesis of Lachmann's Method, 
trans. and ed. Glenn W. Most (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 2005. 

3 Ronald Hendel, ‘'The Oxford Hebrew Bible: Prologue to a New Critical Edition,” Vetus Tes- 
tamentum 58 (2008): 324-51. 

6 It is important to note here that textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible has been transformed by the 
Dead Sea Discoveries. Ronald Hendel and the project of the Oxford Hebrew Bible is not a diplomatic 
edition based on the Masoretic Text but a critical edition that takes the scrolls findings into account. 

7 Hendel, "The Oxford Hebrew Bible: Prologue to a New Critical Edition,” 335. 

8 Frank Moore Cross, ‘‘Problems of Method in the Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible,” 
in The Critical Study of Sacred Texts , ed. W. D. O’Flaherty (Berkeley: Graduate Theological 
Union, 1979), 50. 


Configuring the Text in Biblical Studies 

Another assumption that goes with an exclusively retrospective approach is 
the assumption that there is a sharp and irreversible distinction between textual 
formation and textual transmission. If this is the case, then we may make an 
equally sharp and irreversible distinction: between textual criticism, which aims 
to regress to the point of textual fixation, and the history of interpretation, which 
seeks to understand forwards, but only—on this view—from the point of textual 
fixity on. 

But we are not forced to adopt these two assumptions. To be sure, they seem 
well suited to cases of medieval manuscript copying. It is perhaps no accident 
that Jakob Bemays and Karl Lachmann worked out their methods for recon¬ 
structing archetypes in relation to manuscripts of Lucretian poetry. But it is not 
at all obvious that the assumptions in question are compulsory when it comes to 
the Hebrew Bible or other ancient texts. Thus Hendel agrees with James Kugel 
and others in seeing some variation as interpretation rather than corruption: 
“Interpretive phenomena such as harmonizations, explications, linguistic mod¬ 
ernizations, and exegetical revisions open a window onto scribal interpretation 
in the period prior to the textual stabilization of the various biblical books. These 
types of variants ought not to be seen as mere ‘corruptions’—as is the older text- 
critical nomenclature—but rather as evidence of the process of scripturalization, 
i.e., the conceptual shifts by which texts became Scripture.” 9 Hendel retains a 
distinction between textual formation and textual transmission. But Hendel does 
not see the distinction as sharp and irreversible. Instead, he sees “a historical 
transition from major to minor textual intervention, rather than a change from all 
to none.” 10 He also regards this transition as reversible: “Some scribes became 
major partners once again, when the changes were so thoroughgoing as to create 
a new edition. In these cases, new textual production occurs after the period of 
textual transmission has begun.” * 11 

In my view, once we abandon the assumptions that make a retrospective 
approach compulsory, we should stop thinking in terms of compositional 
processes that culminate in the production of fixed texts. Instead, we should 
think in terms of what I call traditionary processes that encompass both tex¬ 
tual formation and textual interpretation, as well as a variety of text-involving 
practices, individual and communal. From these traditionary processes, texts 
of more or less fixity sometimes precipitate out, just as in chemistry separable 
solids sometimes form within a medium that remains liquid. Once we think in 

9 Hendel, “The Oxford Hebrew Bible: Prologue to a New Critical Edition,” 327. 

10 Ibid. 

11 Ibid. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

terms of traditionary processes, we are free to understand them either backwards 
or forwards. We may take a retrospective approach, seeking to reconstruct an 
archetypal text or family of texts, and this is a very valuable pursuit. Or, we may 
take a prospective approach, studying the interpretive, religious, and cultural 
developments that precede, succeed, and intervene in the formation of texts. 

Part II: Author Formation 

Far less well known than the story of the development of the historiography of 
the text, which has been told by Sebastiano Timpanaro 12 and Anthony Grafton 13 
among others, is the story of a further nineteenth century development, initiated 
in 1869—some 80 years after Eichhom’s groundbreaking work—by a twenty- 
four year old who, in a highly unusual step, had been appointed to a professor¬ 
ship in classical philology at the University of Basel. This precocious youth was 
none other than Friedrich Nietzsche. 

If Eichhom and Wolf, along with Bemays and Lachmann, crystallized the idea 
of understanding the formation of the text backwards, then Nietzsche articulated 
the idea of understanding the formation of the author and, indeed, of under¬ 
standing this formation forwards. Only a century later, in 1969, would this idea 
begin to become more widely appreciated, thanks to Michel Foucault. 

For his inaugural lecture at Basel, Nietzsche chose as his topic “The Homeric 
Question.” This was understood—and is still understood by many scholars—to 
comprise two questions: 1) How are we to identify and reconstruct the original 
Homeric text? 2) How are we to identify and contextualize Homer himself, the 
original author? 14 

Bemays and Lachmann may have arrived at a practical response to the pessi¬ 
mism of Eichhom and Wolf with respect to the question of the Urtext. But this 
did nothing whatsoever for the question of the Urschrifsteller. Here, Nietzsche 
took the decisive step, though he was derided for it at the time, by asking: 

“Was the person created out of a concept, or the concept out of a person? This 

12 Timpanaro, The Genesis of Lachmann's Method. 

13 Anthony Grafton, Glenn W. Most, and James E. G. Zetzel, F. A. Wolf: Prolegomena to 
Homer, 1795: Translated with Introduction and Notes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 

14 The combined quest for both original text, Urtext, and original writer, Urschriftsteller, is of 
course found in biblical studies too, hence the search for the ipsissima verba of the Jeremiah or 


Configuring the Text in Biblical Studies 

is the real ‘Homeric question,’ the central problem of personality.” 15 Nietzsche 
proceeded to suggest three stages in the development of both the Homeric 
collection and the Homeric personality. What interests me here is not whether 
Nietzsche is correct. Of course, the details are still hotly contested by Homer 
scholars, who tend to ignore Nietzsche in any event. What interests me is the 
sort of story Nietzsche tells—the way he links textual and authorial formation— 
and ultimately whether this sort of story can be told in biblical studies. 

In specifying the three stages, Nietzsche went backwards in time. His ulti¬ 
mate point, however, is to vindicate a prospective approach. 16 The first stage 
in Nietzsche’s discussion is, then, the latest, chronologically speaking. At this 
stage, “The Alexandrian grammarians [e.g., Zenodotus of Ephesus in the third 
century BCE and Aristarchus in the second] ... conceived the Iliad and the 
Odyssey as the creations of one single Homer; they declared it to be psycho¬ 
logically possible for two such different works to have sprung from the brain 
of one genius ... in contradiction to the Chorizontes [attributing the two works 
to different authors], who represented the extreme limit of the skepticism of a 
few detached individuals of antiquity rather than antiquity itself considered as 
a whole.” 17 Here the textual unity of the collection went together with the unity 
of the author’s personality: “To explain the different general impression of the 
two books on the assumption that one poet composed them both, scholars sought 
assistance by referring to the seasons of the poet’s life, and compared the poet of 
the Odyssey to the setting sun.” 18 This assumption of a unitary collection along 
with a unitary authorial personality lasted, Nietzsche thinks, until his own day: 
“the personality of Homer is treated seriously; that a certain standard of inner 
harmony is everywhere presupposed in the manifestations of the personality; 
and that, with these two excellent auxiliary hypotheses, whatever is seen to be 
below this standard and opposed to this inner harmony is at once swept aside 
as un-Homeric. ... Individuality is ever more strongly felt and accentuated; the 
psychological possibility of a single Homer is ever more forcibly demanded.” 19 
Only Wolf, Nietzsche thinks, opened up the possibility of a different view, but 
he did not explore this other possibility. 

15 Friedrich Nietzsche, “Homer and Classical Philology” (inaugural lecture, Basel University, 
May 28, 1869). Published in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, ed. Oscar Levy, 
trans. John McFarland Kennedy (Edinburgh: T. N. Foulis, 1910), 3:155. 

16 Three stages in the formation of Homeric text and author, according to Nietzsche, “Homer 
and Classical Philology,” in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, 3:145-70. 

17 Nietzsche, “Homer and Classical Philology,” in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, 

18 Ibid.,153. 

19 Ibid., 154. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

If we go back before the Alexandrian grammarians to a second stage, how¬ 
ever, we do not find—or so Nietzsche argues—the same emphasis on Homeric 
personality. Instead, we find, as we go back before the Alexandrian conquest to 
Aristotle and his predecessors in the fourth and fifth centuries BCE, that “the 
inability to create a personality is seen to increase; more and more poems are 
attributed to Homer; and every period lets us see its degree of criticism by how 
much and what it considers to be Homeric. In this backward examination, we 
instinctively feel that away beyond Herodotus [in the fifth century BCE] there 
lies a period in which an immense flood of great epics has been identified with 
the name of Homer.” 

And if we go still further back to a third stage, before the time of Pisistratus (the 
mid-sixth century BCE Athenian tyrant, sometimes said to be responsible for a 
“recension” of Homeric poems), then we find according to Nietzsche that, at this 
earliest stage, “Homer” was a name attached, not to a personality, but rather to a 
genre or to an epic tendency. 

The only path which leads back beyond the time of Pisistratus and 
helps us to elucidate the meaning of the name Homer, takes its way 
on the one hand through the reports which have reached us concern¬ 
ing Homer’s birthplace: from which we see that, although his name is 
always associated with heroic epic poems, he is on the other hand no 
more referred to as the composer of the Iliad and the Odyssey than as 
the author of the Thebais or any other cyclical epic. On the other hand, 
again, an old tradition tells of the contest between Homer and Hes¬ 
iod, which proves that when these two names were mentioned people 
instinctively thought of two epic tendencies, the heroic and the didactic; 
and that the signification of the name “Homer” was included in the 
material category and not in the formal. 20 

In other words, the ancient Alexandrian grammarians had assumed that there 
had been an actual poet called Homer, and that on the basis of his personality, 
a concept of the poet had been formed. This assumption was still dominant in 
Nietzsche’s own day. As in the case of the text, the philologist’s goal—attainable 
or not—was to strip away the representational layers, until the original person, 
existing at a particular time in a particular place, was exposed. 

However, if we suspend the assumption that personality came first, and if we 
look at the textual evidence, then we find according to Nietzsche that, prior 

20 Ibid., 155. 


Configuring the Text in Biblical Studies 

to the Alexandrian grammarians, there was very little conception of Homer’s 
personality, and many texts were associated with his name. At the earliest 
discernible stage, it would seem that all heroic epics were ascribed to Homer, 
and all didactic epics to Hesiod. So, Nietzsche suggests, what came first was not 
the personality but rather the concept and in particular, the concept of a certain 
genre. In the first place, the name of Homer stood, not for a concrete person, 
but rather for the heroic epic. To ascribe a work to Homer was to say that it was 
a heroic, rather than a didactic epic. Later, however, some of these texts were 
excluded, since they were not of the highest quality, and they were imperfect 
instances of the genre. Only gradually, as some of the higher-quality texts came 
to be read as a unit and at least partially harmonized, did the name of Homer 
come to stand for an author who had, in representation, a distinct personality. 
This personality both reflected the unity of the texts in question, and also served 
as an idea guiding further harmonization and, perhaps, further text production. 
Ultimately, this gave rise to a text collection and, at some point, to an ancient 
edition of this collection. 

Nietzsche concluded: “We believe in a great poet as the author of the Iliad and 
the Odyssey—but not that Homer was this poet. ... And the wonderful genius to 
whom we owe the Iliad and the Odyssey belongs to this thankful posterity: he, 
too, sacrificed his name on the altar of the primeval father of the Homeric epic, 
Homeros.” 21 In other words, the great poet and wonderful genius deserving of 
study is not the actual, historical Homer, assuming that there was such a person. 
Even if we could find this original Homer, contextualizing him would shed little 
light on Homeric texts. 22 

Nietzsche did not last long in the academy. The reaction to his first book, The 
Birth of Tragedy, was vicious. To some extent, one can already see the seeds of 
this disaster in some of the more provocative aspects of Nietzsche’s inaugural 

21 Ibid., 156. 

22 For a somewhat similar view, see Gregory Nagy, Homeric Questions (Austin: University 
of Texas Press, 1996), 110-11: “The comparative evidence of living oral epic traditions goes 
a long way to show that unity or integrity results from the dynamic interaction of composi¬ 
tion, performance, and diffusion in the making of epic. Such evidence, added to the internal 
evidence of the Iliad and Odyssey as texts, points to an evolutionary process in the making of 
Homeric poetry. And yet, this envisioning of Homer in evolutionary terms may leave some of 
us with a sense of aching emptiness. It is as if we had suddenly lost a cherished author whom 
we could always admire for the ultimate achievement of the Iliad and the Odyssey. But surely 
what we have really admired all along is not the author, about whom we never did really know 
anything historically, but the Homeric poems themselves. To this extent, the evolutionary 
model may even become a source of consolation: we may have lost a historical author whom 
we never knew anyway, but we have recovered in the process a mythical author who is more 
than just an author: he is a cultural hero of Hellenism, a most cherished teacher of all Hellenes, 
who will come back to life with every new performance of his Iliad and Odyssey .” 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

lecture. 23 One unnecessarily provocative feature of Nietzsche’s argument is his 
statement that the prospective investigation of authorial formation responds to 
“the real ‘Homeric question.”’ On my view, both questions about textual forma¬ 
tion and questions about authorial formation, as well as both retrospective and 
prospective approaches to these questions, are equally legitimate. My intention 
is not to repudiate the retrospective quest for Urtext and Urschriftsteller , or for 
multiple versions of these. If we could find the original Homer and his com¬ 
positions, this would be extremely interesting, even if it would shed little light 
on Homeric texts, most of whose formation is connected to a concept of the 
personality (i.e., the author) with hardly any connection to the historical figure. 
Rather, my intention is to endorse the importance of the retrospective search 
for the original text and writer, while arguing at the same time for a prospective 
examination of traditionary processes in which both textual units and concepts 
of personalities are produced, redacted, and revised. 

Nietzsche’s inaugural lecture suggests four questions that I want to ask of bibli¬ 
cal studies: First, what role is played by ascription in the formation of textual 
units? Second, to what extent and in what ways does textual formation go hand 
in hand with formation of a distinctive authorial personality? Third, to what 
extent and in what ways is the relationship between textual formation and autho¬ 
rial formation reciprocal? (So, e.g., may the authorial personality be affected 
by the production of further texts?) Fourth, what roles can textual and authorial 
formation play in the formation of the reader? 

Part III: Moses and Ezra as Metaphor and Simile 

To explore these questions, I want to compare two figures—Moses and Ezra— 
and the texts associated with them. The comparison is especially apt because 
they are both founding figures. Moses is the founder of the people of Israel 
constituted by means of the exodus from Egypt, the years of wandering in the 
wilderness, and the revelation at Sinai. Ezra is the founder of the reconstituted 
Second Temple community and is returned to the land of Israel from the Babylo¬ 
nian exile. 24 1 will argue, however, that there are significant differences between 
the ways in which Moses and Ezra are handled by traditionary processes in 

23 Nietzsche argued that philology included at least as much aesthetic subjectivity as objective 
science, and called for philology to become philosophy, none of which went over well with his 

24 Tosefta Sanhedrin 4:7 compares them in stature: “Rabbi Yossi said: Ezra was sufficiently 
worthy (ra’uy) that the Torah could have been given through him, had Moses not preceded 


Configuring the Text in Biblical Studies 

ancient Judaism, and these differences help us to pursue the four questions for 
biblical studies suggested by Nietzsche’s early work in classics. 

Before proceeding to examples, I need to make two preliminary remarks. The 
first concerns distinct levels of unity that are achievable by means of textual 
formation. In my first book, Seconding Sinai , I focused on the formation of what 
I called u a discourse tied to a founder,” developing an idea of Foucault’s, but 
without yet knowing of Nietzschean roots of the idea. In particular, I focused on 
Mosaic discourse. Now I want to distinguish two further levels of textual forma¬ 
tion, establishing a threefold distinction between text, collection, and discourse. 

As I use the terms, a text is a unit that may be ascribed to a personality or a fig¬ 
ure. A collection is a group of texts that may be ascribed to a single figure collec¬ 
tively, or as a group, such as the book of Psalms, 1 lQPsalms, or the Pentateuch. 
A discourse is a group of texts that may-be ascribed to a single figure individu¬ 
ally but not collectively, for example, Deuteronomy and Jubilees are part of the 
same Mosaic discourse 25 but not of the same collection. So too Ezra-Nehemiah 
and 4Ezra are part of the same discourse but not of the same collection. 

My second preliminary remark concerns the difference between the two ways in 
which both writers and readers can relate to exemplary personalities: imitation 
and emulation. The distinction is related to the distinction between simile and 
metaphor. A simile compares two terms in some determinate respect by affirm¬ 
ing that one is like the other in that respect. In contrast, a metaphor compares 
two terms by affirming that one is the other, which establishes an indeterminate 
identification, pregnant with possibility. If Romeo had said that, “Juliet is like 
the sun,” he would have employed a simile to establish that, like the sun, Juliet 
is, let us say, the radiant center of his world. But Romeo does not employ a 
simile. Instead, Romeo speaks metaphorically, saying, “Juliet is the sun.” There 
are indefinitely many things to say about the sun. Perhaps not all of them may be 
said of Juliet. After all, the identification is not literal. But any of them may be 
said of Juliet if it turns out to be apt. 26 

25 Hindy Najman, Seconding Sinai: The Development of Mosaic Discourse in Second Temple 
Judaism, Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 77 (Leiden: Brill, 2003); see in 
particular chap. 1, “Mosaic Discourse,” 1-40. 

26 See Stanley Cavell, Must We Mean What We Say? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 
1969), 78-79. Also see later discussion in David Hills, “Aptness and Truth in Verbal Meta¬ 
phor,” Philosophical Topics 25 (1997): 117-53; Hindy Najman, Past Renewals: Interpretive 
Authority, Renewed Revelation and the Quest for Perfection, Supplements to the Journal for 
the Study of Judaism 53 (Leiden: Brill, 2010); see in particular chap. 13 "How Should We 
Contextualize Pseudepigrapha: Imitation and Emulation in 4Ezra,” 235-43. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

Similarly, a figure may be exemplary in two different ways. The figure may 
serve as a simile. In that case, someone may imitate the figure in question: they 
may be like the figure in some determinate respect. Alternatively, the exemplary 
figure may serve as a metaphor. In that case, someone may emulate the figure 
in question: they may identify with the figure in an indeterminate way that is 
pregnant with possibility. 

With these preliminaries in place, I will argue for the following two differ¬ 
ences between Moses and Ezra. First, traditionary processes gave rise, not only 
to Mosaic texts and to a Mosaic discourse, but also to a Mosaic collection. In 
contrast, there are Ezrean texts and an Ezrean discourse, but there is no Ezrean 
collection—with one notable exception. Second, the name “Ezra” goes from sig¬ 
nifying a role to signifying a richly imagined personality, fit both for emulation 
and imitation. In contrast, the name “Moses” goes from signifying a personality 
to signifying a role, fit for emulation, but not for imitation—-with one notable 
exception. This contrast has major implications not only for ancient Jewish writ¬ 
ers, but also for readers of the texts they produced. 

A) First Difference 

In various pentateuchal sources, we see aspects of Moses’ personality that make 
him suitable for a leadership role. He risks his life of privilege to punish the 
oppressor of an Israelite slave. But this is not merely tribal loyalty. For he also 
defends the daughters of the priest of Midian against those who would deny 
them access to the well. In fulfilment of his leadership potential, Moses becomes 
God’s spokesperson to Israel, and Israel’s spokesperson to God. 

However, Moses’ role as protagonist comes to be eclipsed by his role as spokes¬ 
person. The highest authority attaches to “Torah of Moses.” This happens to 
such an extent that Moses becomes an authorial figure, so that texts are now 
expressions of his spokesperson role. Deuteronomy does not begin with the 
familiar formula, “And God spoke to Moses saying.” Instead, Deuteronomy 
begins with, “And these are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel.” In Jubi¬ 
lees, this move from protagonist to author is extended to those parts of what we 
now call the Pentateuch that narratively precede Moses’ birth. 27 

27 Translation from James VanderKam, The Book of Jubilees, 2 vols., Corpus Scriptorum 
Christianorum Orientalium 510-11, Scriptores Aethiopici 87-88 (Leuven: Peeters, 1989). 


Configuring the Text in Biblical Studies 


These are the words regarding the divisions of the times of the law and 
of the testimony, of the events of the years, of the weeks of their jubi¬ 
lees throughout all the years of eternity as he related (them) to Moses 
on Mt. Sinai when he went up to receive the stone tablets—the law and 
the commandments—on the Lord’s orders as he had told him that he 
should come up to the summit of the mountain. 


Then he said to an angel of the presence: “Dictate to Moses (starting) 
from the beginning of the creation until the time when my temple is 
built among them throughout the ages of eternity.” 

Jubilees then proceeds to “rewrite” Genesis through part of Exodus, emphasiz¬ 
ing repeatedly that everything written—including, of course, the calendrical 
issues about which Jubilees cares so much, and which appear to be a point of 
significant disagreement with the Temple establishment—is dictated to Moses 
on Sinai, and transcribed by Moses. 

Similarly, Philo of Alexandria regards Moses as the lawgiver, not only insofar as 
the law was given through him at Sinai, but also insofar as he is responsible for 
the entire Pentateuch, including the parts prior to the narrative of his own birth. 
Thus, for example, Philo writes: 

He [Moses] did not, like any prose-writer, make it his business to 
leave behind for posterity records of ancient deeds for the pleasant but 
unimproving entertainment which they give; but, in relating the history 
of early times, and going for its beginning right to the creation of the 
universe, he wished to show two most essential things: first that the 
Father and Maker of the world was in the truest sense also its Law¬ 
giver, secondly that he who would observe the laws gladly welcomes 
conformity with nature and lives in accordance with the ordering of the 
universe, so that his deeds are attuned to harmony with his words and 
his words with his deeds (Philo, Life of Moses, 2.48). 28 

28 Translation of Philo’s works are from Loeb Classical Library, vol. VI, trans. F. H. Colson 
and G. H. Whitaker (London: William Heniemann Ltd.). 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

Thus, Moses ultimately became not only the protagonist and prophet, and not 
only the authorial figure to whom texts were ascribed—indeed, not only the 
founding figure of an entire Mosaic discourse—but also the authorial figure to 
whom two crucial collections were ascribed: Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch. 
Textual formation, at various levels, in its essence involved ascription. 

Ezra too begins as a protagonist in Ezra-Nehemiah, and becomes an authorial 
figure to whom texts such as 4Ezra are ascribed: “In the thirtieth year of the 
destruction of our country, I, Shealtiel, who is Ezra, was in Babylon.” 29 Because 
texts ascribed to Ezra continued to be produced for some time, one might also 
speak of a discourse of Ezra, comparable to Mosaic discourse. 30 But there is no 
collection ascribed to Ezra, no parallel to the Mosaic Deuteronomy and Penta¬ 
teuch. However, in 4Ezra, we encounter what appears to be an imagined Ezrean 
collection on the model of the Mosaic collection. See 4Ezra where Ezra receives 
the ninety-four books: “Ninety-four books were written by them in forty days 
and it was that when the forty days were completed the Most High spoke to 
me and said to me these twenty-four books that were written before me place 
in public and they will read in them those who are worthy and those who are 
unworthy of the people but these seventy you are going to keep and you will 
complete them for the wise of your people” (14:44^16). 

If these books ever existed, then they have long been lost. And if this is an 
attempt to establish Ezra, not merely as a restorer of tor at moshe, but as the 
institutor of a torat ezra, then it would seem to have been a failure. The absence 
of an Ezrean collection leaves the authority of Moses without parallel. Perhaps, 
as Rabbi Yossi said, Ezra was fit to transmit the Torah. But, after all, Moses did 
precede him, and Ezra did not displace him. 

B) Second Difference 

In Ezra-Nehemiah, Ezra is a protagonist, introduced as “a scribe expert in the 
Teaching of Moses” (Ezra 7:6). His personality is not portrayed in much detail 
What matters is his role. Doubly authorized by his knowledge of Torat Moshe 
and by the king of Persia, he undertakes to re-establish the Temple cult and to 
purify the people of intermarriage. 

29 4Ezra 1:1. 

30 This would require a specification of the features required for membership in Ezrean dis¬ 
course. 1 hope to do this elsewhere. 


Configuring the Text in Biblical Studies 

However, in 4Ezra, Ezra’s personality is richly imagined. The portrayal employs 
two distinct devices. First, there are several similes, which serve to establish 
that Ezra is like an authoritative figure in some determinate respect. Here is an 
explicit comparison to Daniel with respect to visionary power and content: (10) 
This is the interpretation of the vision that you saw: (11) the eagle you saw who 
came up from the sea—this is the fourth kingdom that was shown in a vision 
unto your brother Daniel. (12) But it was not interpreted to him as I am inter¬ 
preting to you now. (13) Look! The days are coming when a kingdom will arise 
upon the earth and it will be more fearful than all the kingdoms that were before 
it (4Ezra 12:10-13). 

Ezra is also explicitly likened to Moses, to whom was shown the burning bush, 
symbolizing Israel’s survival in extreme adversity: 

(3) Then he (God) said to me, “I revealed myself in a bush and spoke 
to Moses when my people were in bondage in Egypt; (4) and I sent 
him and led my people out of Egypt; and I led him up to Mount Sinai. 

And I kept him with me many days; (5) and I told him many wondrous 
things, and showed him the secrets of the times and declared to him the 
end of the times. Then I commanded him, saying: (6) ‘These words you 
shall publish openly, and these you shall keep secret.’ (7) And now I 
say to you: (8) Lay up in your heart the signs that I have shown you, the 
dreams that you have seen and the interpretation that you have heard; 

(9) for you shall be taken up from among men, and henceforth you shall 
be with my servant and with those who are like you, until the times are 
ended (4Ezra 14:3-9). 

In other passages, the simile is implicit, working by means of textual allusion. 
Thus Ezra is likened to Ezekiel, in his ability to receive revelation in exile; and 
to Jeremiah, in his ability to lament destruction. In all these respects, the epony¬ 
mous author of 4Ezra imitates these figures and inherits their authority. But this 
is not all. In the culminating passage cited above, Ezra does not merely imitate 
Moses; he emulates him, receiving the books of the law after forty days. This is 
not merely a simile. It is an identification: Ezra is the new Moses, though, as I 
said before, this move appears to have been unsuccessful. 

The historical development of Ezra is to some extent the reverse of the develop¬ 
ment of Moses. If Ezra ceased to be a role and became a personality, then Moses 
ceased to be a personality and became a role—the role of the lawgiver par excel¬ 
lence. An important step in this direction was taken in Deuteronomy 34, which 
portrays Moses’ death on the threshold of the promised land: “Since then, no 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

prophet has risen in Israel like Moses. ...” The incomparability of Moses is akin 
to the incomparability of God. It signifies a pre-eminent authority. 

If no prophet was “like Moses,” then similes that likened prophets to Moses 
were highly problematic, although we have seen, in the case of 4Ezra, that 
they were nevertheless attempted. By the same token, determinate features of 
Moses’ personality became less important than his role as lawgiver. There was 
no further need to establish Moses’ authority, since it was axiomatic. And it was 
largely inappropriate to establish Moses as an exemplar for imitation, because to 
imitate Moses would be to appear to challenge his authority. 

However, this did not mean that it was impossible to emulate Moses. Indeed, 
this was exactly what the anonymous writers of Deuteronomy and Jubilees did. 
They effaced their own names and personalities and, through their pseudepigra- 
phy, they identified with the Mosaic role of lawgiver. Moses was incomparable. 
But this incomparability was asserted in a book that repeated the giving of the 
law, hence the name: Deuteronomy. So Mosaic lawgiving was established in 
Deuteronomy as at once both incomparable and repeatable. 

This is not to say that the emulation and repetition of Mosaic lawgiving was easy 
to accomplish. In my book, Seconding Sinai , I established specific features that 
texts needed to exhibit in order to count as participating in Mosaic discourse. 
Ascription to Moses was necessary but far from sufficient. If Deuteronomy 
was accepted by all communities then Jubilees was not, although it employed 
elaborate Deuteronomic strategies and seems to have been treated as scripture at 
Qumran. However, even much later, in the classical rabbinic and medieval peri¬ 
ods when Deuteronomic pseudepigraphy would seem to have been unthinkable, 
we hear echoes of the emulation of Moses. Laws with great authority but with 
no scriptural source were sometimes called halakhah lemoshe missinai . 3! And 
Maimonides, in an extremely audacious move, called his code Mishneh Torah. 

So far, I have spoken of the writer’s imitation and emulation of exemplary 
figures such as Moses and Ezra. But what of the reader? In 4Ezra, it is clear 
that the reader is supposed to emulate Ezra. Not all ancient Jewish readers were 
graced with visions and with angelic instruction. So they could hardly be asked 
to imitate Ezra in the way that he imitates Daniel, among others. However, the 
lesson that Ezra learns from visions and angels was one that all ancient Jewish 
readers could be asked to learn with him. 4Ezra was written after the destruc- 

31 Najman, Seconding Sinai, where there is an extensive discussion of halakhah lemoshe mis¬ 


Configuring the Text in Biblical Studies 

tion of the Second Temple. But it portrays Ezra’s response to the destruction of 
the First. This is a mode of consolation: what has not yet been built cannot have 
been destroyed. 32 What distinguishes such consolation from delusion is the long¬ 
standing sense, found throughout the Second Temple period, that the Second 
Temple never was the restoration of the First. 

Ezra is portrayed as a personality paralyzed by loss. Only after the fourth of his 
seven visions, when he learns how to lament, is Ezra transformed into a fig¬ 
ure worthy of receiving the books of the law. He is said explicitly to be turned 
around by his encounter with a mourning mother who turns out to be none other 
than Zion herself. The reader who allows himself or herself to mourn the loss 
of Zion and the Temple—who thereby succeeds in finding hope in the wake of 
destruction—will have emulated Ezra. 

What of Moses? I have said that he became inimitable but that writers could 
seek, with great difficulty and with no guarantee of success, to emulate his law- 
giving. But ordinary readers could hardly be expected or intended to take on this 
leadership role par excellence. 

Nevertheless, there is one exception known to me. Perhaps it is the exception 
that proves the rule. Philo of Alexandria gave a richly imagined account of 
Moses’ personality and his fitness for leadership, no doubt because he felt the 
need to establish Mosaic authority in the eyes of Hellenized Jews and, indeed, 
in the eyes of non-Jewish Greek-speakers. But Philo also noticed the incompa¬ 
rability that Deuteronomy ascribes to Moses at the moment of his death, and he 
connected this with Moses’ movement, which 1 have thematized already, beyond 
a personality with traits that could be imitated. Philo dealt with this movement 
beyond personality by means of his Platonism. On his account, Moses achieved 
the ultimate goal of human life: a transcendence of determinate personality that 
rendered him “pure mind”: 

Afterwards the time came when he had to make his pilgrimage from 
earth to heaven, and leave this mortal life for immortality, summoned 
thither by the Father Who resolved his twofold nature of soul and 
body into a single unity, transforming his whole being into mind, pure 
as the sunlight. Then, indeed, we find him possessed by the spirit, no 
longer uttering general truths to the whole nation but prophesying to 

32 Najman, “How Should We Contextualize Pseudepigrapha? Imitation and Emulation in 
4Ezra,” in Past Renewals: Interpretive Authority, Renewed Revelation, and the Quest for Per¬ 
fection in Jewish Antiquity, Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 53 (Leiden: 
Brill, 2010), 235-42 (238). 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

each tribe in particular the things which were to be, and hereafter must 
come to pass. Some of these have already taken place, others are still 
looked for, since confidence in the future is assured by fulfillment in the 
past (Philo, Life of Moses , 2:288). 

In this respect, Moses could and should be emulated by every reader: 

What more shall I say? Has he not also enjoyed an even greater com¬ 
munion with the Father and Creator of the universe, being thought 
unworthy of being called by the same appellation? For he also was 
called the god and king of the whole nation, and he is said to have 
entered into the darkness where God was; that is to say, into the invis¬ 
ible, and shapeless, and incorporeal world, the essence, which is the 
model of all existing things, where he beheld things invisible to mortal 
nature; for, having brought himself and his own life into the middle, 
as an excellently wrought picture, he established himself as a most 
beautiful and Godlike work, to be a model for all those who were 
inclined to imitate him. Happy are those who imprint it, or strive to 
imprint, that image [of Moses] in their souls. For it were best that the 
mind should carry the form of virtue in perfection, but, failing this, let 
it at least have the unflinching desire to possess that form (Philo, Life 
of Moses, 1:158-59). 

Only because of his Platonic emphasis on the soul’s transcendence of the body 
could Philo maintain that every reader should emulate Moses. Such Platonic 
views would return in medieval Jewish philosophy. But they do not seem char¬ 
acteristic of classical rabbinic literature, and Moses is therefore treated primarily 
as an incomparable authority and not as an exemplar to be emulated. 


In conclusion, I return to the four questions suggested for biblical studies by 
Nietzsche’s inaugural lecture. 1) Textual ascription can indeed, sometimes, play 
a crucial role in textual formation. Certainly this is true at the levels of discourse 
and collection. Whether it is true at the level of smaller textual units, such as 
sources, remains to be seen. Comparison with other ancient textual units, such as 
the Homeric books, may prove to be fruitful once again. 2) Ascription is some¬ 
times to a personality. In these cases, textual formation and authorial formation 
go hand in hand. But ascription is sometimes to a role. As we have seen, there 
is variation and development: the name “Moses” ceased to signify a personality 


Configuring the Text in Biblical Studies 

and came to signify a role, while the name “Ezra” ceased to signify a role and 
came to signify a personality. 3) It is not only that authorial formation can affect 
textual formation by establishing the need for harmonization. Textual formation 
can also affect authorial formation. In the case of Jubilees, the perceived need to 
continue Mosaic discourse generated the “rewriting” of much of the Pentateuch. 
In the case of 4Ezra, the perceived need to continue an Ezrean discourse after 
the destruction of the Second Temple generated the “rewriting” of Ezra as a 
richly imagined personality. 4) Finally, one purpose of textual ascription may be 
to bring about the imitation or emulation of an exemplary figure by the reader, 
as we see in the case of Ezra. However, as we see in the case of Moses, the more 
authoritative and incomparable the figure, the more difficult it is to hold this 
figure up for imitation and even emulation. 

We understand backwards but live forwards. So, in effect, says the passage from 
Kierkegaard with which this essay began. However, I hope to have shown that 
it is also possible to understand forwards. The pursuit of original texts and their 
authors is important, but it is by no means the only path in biblical studies. At 
the same time, I hope that I have also shown that texts themselves sometimes 
live backwards and forwards at the same time. The complex, dynamic, and 
reciprocal relationships between the formations of text, author, and reader that 
characterize ancient Judaism are, to be sure, directed towards the present and 
future interpretive communities. They achieve this direction through a profound 
engagement with a past that is never settled. 33 ■ 

33 Many thanks to Paul Franks, Ron Hendel, Nicole Hilton, Sol Goldberg, and Julia Lauwers 
for their incisive comments and editorial suggestions. 



Between Englishness and Ethiopianism: Making Space at 
Princeton for Intercultural Theology 

by Richard Fox Young 

Richard Fox Young is the Elmer K. and Ethel R. Timby Associate Professor 
of the History of Religions at Princeton Theological Seminary. This was his 
convocation address for the 2010-2011 academic year, delivered in Miller 
Chapel on the evening of Sunday, September 19, 2010. 

A. seminary has got to be and continually become, over and over, a home, a 
welcoming environment, a place where faith is cultivated, relationally, in the 
context of faithful relationships. Jonathan Sacks, a British rabbi, reminds us 
of a simple but important truth when he speaks of “home” as a place that we 
make together} “Home,” though, can mean a lot of different things, depending 
on where one comes from; so does that delightful little adverb “together.” That 
being so, what I am wondering is how we might imagine a seminary being and 
becoming a welcoming community, inter culturally. Biblically, my address is 
focused on the Ephesians theme (2:11-22) of a new—intercultural (multi-, inter- 
multi-, or multi-intercultural)—humanity in Christ. Whatever one calls it, our 
new humanity in Christ entails both a dissolutio (breaking down) and an elevatio 
(building up) of human cultural particularities; instead of being abolished or 
trivialized, they are transformed. 1 2 On another occasion, I hope to enter more 
thoroughly into the question of what an intercultural theology might actually 
look like; here, I mainly want to argue for its being a necessity, not a luxury, and 
to claim a space for it in our theological curriculum. 

1 Jonathan Sacks, The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society (London: Continuum, 

2 “Epistemologically, intercultural theology must be multiperspectival. It must look to several 
cultures for insights and validations.” Peter C. Phan, Christianity with an Asian Face: Asian 
American Theology in the Making (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2003), 12. Phan’s introduction 
is germane to the question of naming the kind of theology under discussion here (as inter-, or 
multi-, or inter-multi-, etc.). 

DOI: 10.3754/1937-8386.2010.31.10 


Between Englishness and Ethiopianism 

“Talk of God and experience of divine presence,” Scottish theologian George 
Newlands writes, “is articulated within particular cultures in different ways.” 3 
The illustration I am going to use comes from a culture within a culture of 
Christian Europe. Let us go back for a moment to the Elizabethan church of the 
English Reformation and consider George Aylmer (1520-1594), Lord Bishop 
of London, whom I chanced upon in my reading a while back. I bring him up 
because Christian history is not altogether on my side in recognizing theology’s 
need of being intercultural. 

Aylmer is mainly remembered for a spirited defense of Elizabeth’s sovereignty 
over England against some ill-considered words of John Knox (1514-1572), a 
pivotal figure of the Scottish Reformation. Known for many well-considered 
words, uttered some 450 years ago, these were not Knox’s finest. They are found 
in a book called The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment 
of Women (1557). Here, “monstrous” means “unnatural” and refers to women 
being unfit as women for monarchy. If that blast from Knox’s Trumpet sounds 
off-key in today’s world, it ought to interest you that Aylmer, the Lord Bishop, 
who defended Elizabeth, basically agreed: women, he wrote, were “flibbertigib¬ 
bets,” except Elizabeth, who ruled by divine right. Bad as that sounds, it is actu¬ 
ally something worse about Aylmer that caught my eye: namely, his privileging 
of Englishness and his ascription of it to God. 4 

“God,” the Lord Bishop exulted, “is English.” Unsurprisingly, Aylmer’s English 
God was fonder of the English than of the Danes, the French, and the Norwe¬ 
gians, whom he singles out, not to mention the dreaded “Scottes” (Knox and 
company): “Fall flat on thy face before God and give him thanks seven times a 
day, that you were bom an English man, and not a French peasant, nor an Italian, 
nor [German]”: “[Germans] eat herbs; and you beef and mutton. [Germans] eat 
potatoes; and you butter, cheese, and eggs. [Germans] drink common water; and 
you good ale and beer. [Germans] go home from the market with a salad; and 
you with good flesh fill your wallet.” 5 

3 George Newlands, The Transformative Imagination: Rethinking Intercultural Theology 
(Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), 7. 

4 On gender and politics in The First Blast of the Trumpet, see chaps. 8 and 9 of Rosalind 

K. Marshall, John Knox (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2008). From her, 1 derive my understanding of 
“monstrous” as “unnatural.” 

5 My citations come from the original of Aylmer’s unpaginated rejoinder to Knox, An Har- 
borowe for Faithfull and Trewe Subjectes, against the Late Blowne Blaste, concerning the 
Government ofWemen (1559), accessed on EEBO (Early English Books Online). Quotations 
from Aylmer have had their spellings and pronouns modernized. 


Princeton Seminary’ Bulletin 

Obviously, something has gone terribly wrong here. It all sounds very tribal, 
culturally confining, and lacking in the generous inclusivity of Ephesians. And 
this, from a man who had found refuge in Strasbourg, before he was “elevated” 
to ecclesiastical office, just as Knox had found refuge in Geneva! Still, the last 
thing we should lull ourselves into thinking is, My! Aren’t we more sophisti¬ 
cated, inter culturally! Substitute “American” for “English” and do you, or do 
you not, hear an echo of this same Elizabethan sacralization of nationhood in 
America today? 

For a better example of intercultural theology in the spirit of Ephesians, let 
us now leap over the centuries from the sixteenth to the twentieth, across the 
continents from Europe to Africa, and from history to literature. I am now going 
to introduce a novel called Ethiopia Unbound , written in 1911 by a Ghanaian 
Methodist, Joseph Ephraim Casely-Hayford (1866-1930), the first West African 
writer of English fiction and perhaps the best until Chinua Achebe of Nigeria. 6 
To understand the title, it helps to know that Casely-Hayford was an advocate of 
Christianity’s Africanization; or, I should say, of its re-Africanization. Inspired 
by Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912), the Liberian founder of Pan-Afri¬ 
canism, Casely-Hayford believed that Christianity was African in origin and 
essence. As an ancient center of Christian faith, Ethiopia figured as a symbol for 
Pan-Africanists who believed that decolonization was indispensible to Christi¬ 
anity’s becoming African again. Think of Ethiopianism as an early instance of 
African Christian theology. 7 Now follows an extraordinary passage from the 
novel, which has the text from Ephesians inscribed at its beginning: 

In late Victorian England, two young men walk down London’s Tottenham 
Court Road. Kwamankra comes from the Gold Coast (as Ghana used to be 
called by Europeans) and studies law; the other, from England itself, is Silas 
Whitely, Bishop Aylmer’s modern-day avatar. As one might suspect from his 
name, Whitely is not a person of color. A student of theology, Whitely harbors 
doubts about Jesus Christ’s divinity but is about to be ordained into the Anglican 
priesthood anyway. Kwamankra, who is not a Christian but an African tradi¬ 
tional religionist, finds it hard to understand why Whitely has so much trouble 
believing in Jesus’ divinity. 

6 J. E. Casely-Hayford, Ethiopia Unbound: Studies in Race Emancipation, 2nd ed. (London: 
Frank Cass, 1969 [1911]). For background on Casely-Hayford, see Donald R. Wehrs, Pre- 
Colonial Africa in Colonial African Narratives: From Ethiopia Unbound to Things Fall Apart, 
1911-1958 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008). 

7 For an overview, see Jehu Hanciles, “Ethiopianism: Rough Diamond of African Christianity,” 
Studia historiae ecclesiasticae 23/1-2 (1997): 75-104. 


Between Englishness and Ethiopianism 

At his flat on Russell Square, Kwamankra tries out a bit of intercultural theology 
to help Whitely resolve his doubts. Whitely’s problems all go back, he says, to 
“the feebleness of the idea of God in the Anglo-Saxon language.” Then, taking 
a dictionary of Fanti off the shelf, Kwamankra turns to the letter ‘N’ and begins 
to tell Whitely about one of the many names of God in his mother tongue: “It is 
a big word, so big that you can hardly imagine it: “Nyiakropon” [Nyankopon], 
He who alone is great. Lest Whitely think that Fanti has only one such word for 
“God,” Kwamankra treats him to another, “Nyami” [Nyame], 

He who is I am. He then cites a Fanti proverb: 

Wan a so onyi Nyami se? 

Dasayi wo ho inde, okina na onyi, 

Nyamifiri tsitsi kaisi odumankuma. 


Who says he is equal with God? 

Man is to-day, tomorrow he is not, 

I am is from eternity to eternity. 8 

Unaccustomed to thinking of God by any other word or name, Whitely labors 
under a disadvantage in this exchange. And when Kwamankra poses a what-if 
kind of question, the cultural-boundedness of Whitely’s theological training 
becomes painfully evident: 

[Kwamankra] “Supposing Jesus Christ had been bom of an Ethiopian woman 
instead of Mary of the line of David, do you think it would have made any dif¬ 
ference in the way he influenced mankind?” 

[Whitely] “What a strange question.... Whatever put such an idea into your 

[Kwamankra] “Yes, it is strange.... But, tell me, what is there extraordinary in 
the idea?” 

8 On the use of such names in West African Christianity (Ngewo among the Mende, Olorun 
among the Yoruba, Chukwu among the Igbo, etc.), see Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Move¬ 
ment in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 
1996), 94-97. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

[Whitely] “Oh, I don’t know. Habits of thought, convention, and all that sort of 
thing, I suppose.” 

Despite the help Kwamankra gives him, Whitely’s doubts remain unresolved 
after his ordination and he winds up on the Gold Coast, a tragi-comical colo¬ 
nial chaplain preoccupied with one thing in particular, that is, making sure that 
African and European Christians are buried no less than sixteen feet apart in 
Accra’s colonial-era cemetery. 9 How very badly Whitely needed an interlocutor 
like Kwamankra! Here, I am thinking again of George Newlands and a comment 
of his that puts into sharp relief what Whitely has missed out on: “Christian faith 
has always maintained,” he says, “that human language about God reflects] in 
part a response to God’s prior approach and presence to humanity.” 10 

Here it would be good to pause and consider how “whiteness” might lie behind 
Wftitely’s intellectual paralysis, his failure to grasp hold of the Johannine, Logo- 
pneumatological truth Newlands has in mind. Ethiopia Unbound, it goes without 
saying, is a literary work; realistically, however, the odds were against an 
exchange like this ever occurring. * 11 For a possible reason, I turn to Ira Bashkow, 
whose book The Meaning ofWhitemen is an ethnographic study of a Papua New 
Guinean people, the Orokaiva: “It is no historical accident that the “whiteman,” 
as a perceived cultural presence, is a global phenomenon, and it is thus unsur¬ 
prising to hear that the bianco gringo in Mexico, the laowai in China, and the 
obroni in Ghana are all similarly archetypes of western modernity, wealth, and 
race privilege, personifying the legacy of imperialism, the ideal of development, 
and the force of globalization.” 12 

Though I suppose that this makes Ethiopia Unbound a postcolonial novel that 
predates postcolonialism as a field of study, it is the window the novel opens up 
on God that I find most helpful about it. Still, notice how quickly Whitely slams 
shut the door onto intercultural theology that Kwamankra opens up, if barely a 
crack. In that door I feel as if my fingers had been caught; I want someone like 
Kwamankra to be my interlocutor. Many in the global South want us to be theirs 
but discover to their dismay how very hard it is. Elsa Tamez, a Latina Reformed 
Church theologian who did her higher studies at a Swiss university, puts it like 

9 Casely-Hayford, Ethiopia Unbound , 3-11, 19-21. 26-29, passim. 

10 Newlands, Transformative Imagination, 34. 

11 Cephas N. Omenyo, Mackay Visiting Professor of World Christianity, Princeton Theological 
Seminary (personal communication, 2007). 

12 Ira Bashkow, The Meaning ofWhitemen: Race and Modernity in the Orokaiva Cultural 
World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 2. 


Between Englishness and Ethiopianism 

this: the price, she says, of having a decent conversation with the Western theo¬ 
logical academy is that you have to play by its rules or not at all. 13 

Making things more fair, theologically, sounds good, but how? One of the ways 
most worth trying comes right out of Ethiopia Unbound. At the end, Casely- 
Hayford does something very interesting; he shows how even a slight change 
makes a huge difference by playing a neat historiographical trick, called a 
“counterfactual” (i.e., ifx changes, y might not occur); counterfactuals work 
best when the change introduced is minimal without being trivial. 14 For instance, 
instead of Jesus’s being crucified in Jerusalem, Pilate sends him to Rome, for 
trial, where our Lord and Savior gets a reprieve from Caesar. That one, though, 
happens to be about as maximal as they come. Try another: imagine that 
Switzerland is actually an island in the Caribbean, and instead of being bom in 
Europe, Karl Barth, a Swiss Reformed theologian, was bom a Rastafarian. Now 
who, I wonder, is going to take that seriously? George Newlands, the Scottish 
theologian, thought that one up (the Rastafarian twist, however, is mine); it 
seems, though, more than just a little implausible, wouldn’t you say? 15 

Supposing Jesus Christ had been born of an Ethiopian woman. ... Only that! 

This is all that Casely-Hayford asks you to imagine differently. But see how rad¬ 
ically changed things are only a few degrees of latitude and longitude away! The 
counterfactual shift to Africa works like a solvent on the taken-for-grantedness 
of Christian history; it reinvests that history with a sense of—divine!—contin¬ 
gency, as if it did not necessarily have to be that Aristotle or Kant or Wittgen¬ 
stein are the only interlocutors one could possibly have. And how differently 
things might look if instead of Greek or Latin, our theological vocabularies had 
been shaped by Geez, Ethiopia’s ancient Christian language—or, for that matter, 
by Fanti, Tamil, or Chinese—instead of our “feeble” English. Casely-Hayford, 
in short, shows us how we might strip off the corrosion on Christian history of 
the kind that says a decent conversation about theology cannot be had in any 
language other than English. 

But one thing not at all counterfactual to note is that Christianity is African. 
Casely-Hayford may have been unaware of it back in 1911; even then, how¬ 
ever, Christianity’s geographical center of gravity was moving toward Africa, 
massively. In fact, if you drop a pin onto the center of a Google Map of world 

13 Elsa Tamez, “Our Struggle as Mestizos.” In Navigating Romans through Cultures, ed. 
Khiok-khng Yeo (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2004), 168-70. 

14 On counterfactuals, see Unmaking the West: ‘What-If’ Scenarios that Rewrite World History, 
ed. Philip E. Tetlock et al. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009), 14-44. 

15 Newlands, Transformative Imagination, 22. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

Christianity, it would fall on Timbuktu. 16 It is why we have books nowadays 
with titles like How God Became African, by Dutch historian Gerrie ter Haar. 17 
Timbuktu, of course, continues to be a great center of Islamic culture; radiating 
out from there, however, you begin to get today’s first and densest populations of 
Christians, with Rome and Canterbury, New York and Chicago now on the mar¬ 
gins of the Christian world. It is not that things that happen here are of marginal 
significance; Boundless Faith, a book by sociologist Robert Wuthnow of sociol¬ 
ogy at Princeton University, reminds us of the undiminished Global Outreach of 
American Churches (as the subtitle goes). 18 That is a sobering thought, indeed, 
if men and women like Silas Whitely of Ethiopia Unbound, who slammed shut 
the door onto intercultural openness, are the ones being graduated from our theo¬ 
logical schools. 

Here, though, I have to pronounce both a yes! and a no! on Casely-Hayford. 

He has most definitely opened me up to God; alas, he has also closed me off. 

The reason is that Ethiopia Unbound capitalizes on some invidious, racialized 
essentializations, pitting European against African, black against white. 19 A dual¬ 
ism like that is uncomfortably Manichaean. The many of you here tonight who 
are neither white nor black know that between Englishness and Ethiopianism (as 
it were), American public discourse often excludes the middle. That is a reason 
why no one ought to graduate from Princeton without being immersed in a book 
like The Future is Mestizo, by Virgilio Elizondo, a Catholic prelate and one of 
America’s most illuminating Hispanic theologians. 20 A favorite sociologist of 
mine, Stephen Warner of the University of Illinois, says this of how diaspora 
(immigrant) Christianities are changing America: “When Americans think of 
Christians, they will decreasingly be able to think simply of whites [and African 
Americans]. They will also think of Asian students conducting Bible studies 
and witnessing for Christ on college campuses nationwide. ... “Catholic” will no 
longer be code for “Irish, Polish, and Italian” but will have to include “Mexican, 
Filipino, and Vietnamese.” When Americans think of Asians, they will not just 
think of exotic religious Others but also of believers who thump the Bible and 
ask you if you are saved. Race and religion are increasingly decoupling.” 21 

16 Todd Johnson and Sun Young Chung, “Tracking Global Christianity’s Statistical Centre of 
Gravity, ad 33- ad 2100,” International Review of Mission 93/369 (2004): 166-81. 

17 Gerrie ter Haar, How God Became African: African Spirituality and Western Secular 
Thought (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009). 

18 Robert Wuthnow, Boundless Faith: The Global Outreach of American Churches (Berkeley: 
University of California Press, 2009). 

19 Wehrs, Pre-Colonial Africa, 35. 

20 Virgilio P. Elizondo, The Future Is Mestizo: Life Where Cultures Meet (Boulder: University 
Press of Colorado, 2000). 

21 Stephen R. Warner, “The De-Europeanization of American Christianity.” In A Nation of 


Between Englishness and Ethiopianism 

Even so, Warner observes of white Americans (of whom I am one) that we “still 
tend to claim Christianity as [our] property,” “with a mixture of arrogance and 
exasperation,” “even when many of [z/s] wish [we] could disown it.” 22 In a recent 
issue of Theological Education, Daniel Aleshire of the Association of Theo¬ 
logical Schools makes this comment: “Racial diversity is crucial for effective 
theological education.” 23 A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) sister institution that 
has reflected deeply on this is McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. 
David Esterline, of its faculty, asks this important question: “Are those of us in 
the majority culture ready to...set aside our ownership of the normative culture... 
and turn to listening, learning from and valuing those whose gifts are different 
from ours? If we expect all members of the household of God to be welcomed in 
our congregations, we [students and faculty] need to give careful attention to the 
ways we listen, learn, and teach in our seminaries.” 24 

And so, as I close, I go back to Jonathan Sacks, whom I paraphrased earlier, 
except with this small change: that theology is a thing we make together, 
interculturally —and that, again, is why a seminary has got to be a welcoming 
environment. Theological curricula, however, are notoriously overcrowded; 
space can barely be found, unless someone yields some. And without space, 
how can a predisposition be fostered in our students to seek out the view from 
many’wheres? 25 Theologically, a start can be made when the oneness that we 
have in Christ, spoken of in Ephesians, is not interpreted in ways that allow 
dominant communities to then use scripture to cancel out, ignore, or invalidate 
the concrete particularities of cultures that differ from their own. ■ 

Religions: The Politics of Pluralism in Multireligious America, ed. Stephen R. Prothero (Cha¬ 
pel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 247. 

22 Warner, “De-Europeanization,” 233 (syntax reordered). 

23 Daniel O. Aleshire, “Gifts Differing: The Educational Value of Race and Ethnicity,” Theo¬ 
logical Education 45/1 (2009): 15. 

24 David V. Esterline, “Multicultural Theological Education and Leadership for a Church with¬ 
out Walls.” In Shaping Beloved Community: Multicultural Theological Education, ed. David 
V. Esterline and Ogbu U. Kalu (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press), 17. 

25 1 borrow the term “manywheres” from anthropologist Richard A. Schweder of the University 
of Chicago, whose elucidation of it can be found in his collection of essays, Why Do Men Bar¬ 
becue: Recipes for Cultural Psychology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 2: “The 
knowable world is incomplete if seen from any one point of view, incoherent if seen from all 
points of view at once, and empty if seen from nowhere in particular.” 



Covenant and Hope in Civil Society 

by Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks 

Lord Jonathan Sacks has been Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations 
of the Commonwealth since September 1991. He was knighted by Her Majesty 
The Queen in 2005 in recognition of his service to the community and to interfaith 
relations. In July 2009, he was made a Life Peer, taking his seat in the House of 
Lords, where he sits on the cross benches as Baron Sacks of Aldgate in the City 
of London. A frequent contributor to radio, television, and the national press, the 
Chief Rabbi has written twenty-four books, including The Politics of Hope (1997) 
and The Dignity of Difference (2002), which received the Grawemeyer Prize for 
Religion in 2004. The following is the transcript of a lecture delivered by Chief 
Rabbi Lord Sacks in Stuart Hall on April 15, 2010, as he accepted the Abraham 
Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life. 

rofessor Torrance and friends, I am touched and humbled to be here. It’s 
hard for me to describe how moved I am, because I had no idea my ideas 
reached this far. It has been a very lonely undertaking, and to hear a resonance 
of one’s ideas is very humbling, and therefore I thank you. I thank Dr. Rimmer 
DeVries, in whose merit this award exists, and I thank Princeton, one of the 
world’s great theological seminaries, which has housed so many fine minds and 
made so many distinguished contributions to theology in the public domain. 
Something that my wife, Elaine, and I did not expect is just how beautiful 
Princeton is this time of the year. In fact, walking through Princeton Theological 
Seminary with the trees in blossom and reciting, “Glory be to God for dappled 
things,” and thinking all sorts of wonderful thoughts struck me as the most 
persuasive argument for the existence of God and the goodness of the universe 
that I have come across in many years. All in all, I thank you and wish you, the 
faculty, the seminary, and all the students and staff continued blessing and suc¬ 
cess in all you do. 

It is very moving for me to receive the award in the name of Abraham Kuyper, 
who taught, and proved in his own life, the relevance of the religious voice to 

DOI: 10.3754/1937-8386.2010.31.11 


Covenant and Hope in Civil Society 

public life in quite an extraordinary way as prime minister in Holland just over 
a century ago. I was fascinated to sense this very real kinship between Kuyper’s 
distinction between common grace and specific grace (particular grace) and the 
Jewish idea of the covenant of Noah with all humanity, and the covenant at Sinai 
specifically with the Jewish people. There is clearly a set of resonances, and dif¬ 
ferences: resonances between Kuyper’s thought and Jewish thought of which I 
had genuinely been unaware. Of course, there is also in Judaism a third cov¬ 
enant, namely, the Abrahamic covenant, which brings together Jews, Christians, 
and Muslims. I couldn’t think of a more relevant mode of direct conversation 
between us in these very difficult times. 

I’ve been asked to speak about covenant, hope, and civil society. I am very much 
reminded of the occasion in which George Bernard Shaw was invited to deliver 
a lecture on English literature, and he asked, “How long do I have to speak,” 
and they said, “Well, um, fifteen minutes.” He asked, “How am I supposed to 
say everything I know and believe about English literature in fifteen minutes?” 
The reply came back, “Speak very slowly.” So I’m going to speak very slowly, 
because we’ve got a lot to get through. And I think, therefore, the simplest way 
of dealing with these three central ideas of hope, covenant, and civil society in a 
limited span of time is to speak simply of the Jewish story, and I hope that you 
will find echoes in your own stories. 

So let us begin with the thing that always struck me, a Jew, most forcibly 
about this people into which I was bom, namely, the astonishing Jewish abil¬ 
ity to survive catastrophe. The catastrophe of the destruction of the first Temple 
twenty-six centuries ago preserved a kind of freeze-frame of a moment when 
Jews sat and wept by the waters of Babylon, remembering Zion, and said, “How 
can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” And yet, they did leam to sing 
the Lord’s song in a strange land, they did return home, and somehow Jews and 
Judaism survived that destruction of the second Temple, dispersion, persecution, 
and, finally, the Holocaust. That ability to survive, and reaffirm life after tragedy, 
astonished thinkers as radically different as Pascal in the Pensee, and Nietzsche 
in The Antichrist. How was it that Jews continued to survive? The answer that 
always came to me, every time I studied it, was hope. 

The Jewish people kept hope alive, and hope kept the Jewish people alive. 

And the word, tikva, which is the Hebrew word for hope, is a key word of the 
Hebrew Bible. Not accidentally, when Jews did eventually return to the land of 
their birth and belonging, Israel, sixty-two years ago, they chose as their national 
anthem Ha Tikva, “The Hope.” No sooner than you give this answer you are 
faced with an obvious question: Doesn’t everybody have hope? We human 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

beings all face an unknown and unknowable future. We all hope it’s going to be 
good and not going to be bad. So in what sense is hope specific to a faith or a 
set of religious beliefs or a specific constellation of concepts? That’s the ques¬ 
tion I ask: Is hope universal, or not? And the answer, as I came to see it, is a 
little like the concept of shame and guilt. I think most of us have felt guilt from 
time to time. Having a Jewish mother is not strictly necessary to a feeling of 
guilt, though it does help a great deal. And most of us have at some time or other 
experienced shame. Despite the fact that guilt and shame are fairly universal 
phenomena, Ruth Benedict and many others taught us that there can be such 
things as shame cultures and guilt cultures, and they are not the same. It there¬ 
fore seems to me that as a parallel we can speak of hope cultures and nonhope 
cultures. To put it specifically, as Alasdair Macintyre put it in one of his early 
books, Marxism and Christianity , hope is a social virtue. There are cultures in 
which hope as a social virtue occupies a central place, and there are cultures in 
which it doesn’t. In the history of Western civilization, and boldly overgeneral¬ 
izing because we have only a little bit of time, we can say that non-hope cultures 
have taken two primary forms, which I call tragic cultures and optimistic cul¬ 

I draw a sharp distinction, which I will explain in a few minutes, between 
optimism and hope, which are to me completely separate things. So let us begin 
with tragic cultures, of which the supreme expression is Greece of the age of 
Aeschylus and Sophocles. Without going into any of the deep philosophical 
reflections on tragedy—of Nietzsche, Walter Kauffman, George Steiner, and so 
on—let me draw your attention to what in England we refer to as “the curious 
incident.” Sherlock Holmes says to Dr. Watson, “I draw your attention to the 
curious incident of the dog at night.” Dr. Watson says, “But the dog did nothing 
at night.” Holmes says, “Exactly, that was the curious incident.” The curious 
incident that fascinates me is that Jews of the third and second centuries BCE 
knew the Greeks. They knew Greek culture, they were ruled by Greece—first by 
the Ptolomies, then by the Seleucids—and yet there is no word in either Biblical 
Hebrew or Rabbinic Hebrew that means “tragedy.” That is the curious incident. 
Jews knew disaster, defeat, failure, suffering, and exile, and yet they had no 
concept of the “tragic.” When modem Hebrew needed the word, they simply 
borrowed the word. Do you know what the Hebrew for “tragedy” is? Tragedia. 
Now, how is it that Jews had all these experiences that you and I might call 
tragic, and yet they had no word, no concept for tragedy? 

The briefest of answers, to cut to the chase, is that it seems to me that the classic 
concept of tragedy presupposes that humans are alone in a universe that is at best 
indifferent, at worst hostile, to our existence. We are ultimately powerless in the 


Covenant and Hope in Civil Society’ 

face of some inexorable fate and there is no connection between what we are, 
or what we do, and what happens to us. That is the tragic view of the universe. 
And now it is obvious why there is no concept of the tragic in Judaism. Because 
fate is not inexorable. At one of the holiest moments in our holiest days on the 
Jewish New Year on the Day of Atonement, we say an early medieval prayer 
that contains the line “Repentance, prayer, and charity avert the evil decree.” In 
other words, there is no fate that cannot be reversed by turning to God. That, of 
course, is the theme of the book of Jonah. Jonah is told to go and tell the people 
of Nineveh that in forty days Nineveh will be destroyed. Of course, it isn’t 
destroyed, and Jonah knew it would not be destroyed because two things were 
going to happen. Number one, the people of Nineveh were going to repent; and 
number two, God was going to forgive. 

As Hannah Arendt pointed out, forgiveness breaks the iron rule of causality: 
forgiving is the one action that is not a reaction. It breaks the predictable. The 
same is true of repentance. Proof of human free will lies in the possibility of 
repentance. In Judaism, complete repentance comes when you find yourself in 
the same circumstances you were in when you committed the initial sin, and this 
time you don’t sin because you are changed. That is complete repentance. The 
obvious example is the story of Joseph. You remember that in Genesis 37 it is 
Judah who proposes selling Joseph into slavery. Many years later the brothers 
don’t recognize Joseph. He’s an Egyptian called Zaphnath-Paaneah, and he con¬ 
structs a situation that culminates in his taking Benjamin and saying, “I’m going 
to hold him as a slave.” Judah, who he thinks has repented but isn’t sure, is now 
given the precise opportunity to repeat the sin! He can walk away and leave 
Benjamin a slave. It is when Judah says, “No, let me be a slave and let Benjamin 
go free” that Joseph knows that Judah has repented. The second repentance dem¬ 
onstrates that we have free will, that we have choice, that we are moral agents. 
The fact that we can act differently next time means that the future need not be 
like the past. Time is not a story of eternal recurrence. Time is not simply what 
Plato called a “moving image of eternity.” A world in which there is repentance 
and forgiveness, in which the freedom and the grace of God is bestowed on us in 
God’s image, is not and cannot be a tragically configured universe. Or, as I put it 
very simply, Judaism is the principled defeat of tragedy in the name of hope. A 
world in which there is tragedy is a world without hope; a world in which there 
is hope is a world that defeats tragedy. 

The second non-hope culture as it appeared in the West took shape in the seven¬ 
teenth century in the context of the Enlightenment and the rise of science. That 
culture broadly took a view that by relying on reason rather than revelation we 
could banish the prejudices and the hatreds of the past. Science would allow us 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

to understand nature. Industry and technology would allow us to control nature. 
We would replace the endless, cyclical time of the world of myth with linear 
time and replace cyclical time with evolution or revolution. That would generate 
potentially open-ended and limitless progress that would allow us to progres¬ 
sively eliminate ignorance, poverty, disease, and so on. I call that the culture of 
optimism. Now, without getting involved in the endless arguments that get really 
splendid, let’s forget whether the Enlightenment was secular or religious, or 
succeeded or failed. One way or another for most of us, there was some turning 
point, whether it was the Holocaust or Hiroshima, or Stalinist Russia, whether 
it was global capitalism, climate change, or the failure of philosophical founda- 
tionalism and the birth of postmodernism, one way or another, I don’t think most 
of us are optimists any more. We no longer believe in the inevitability and the 
limitlessness of progress. 

My favorite story related to this tells of a Russian politician back in the old days 
who said, “Comrades, yesterday we stood at the edge of the abyss! But today we 
have taken a giant step forward.” I think we have probably lived through the era 
of optimism. I want to state the fundamental proposition that the death of opti¬ 
mism does not mean the end of hope. There is a fundamental difference between 
optimism and hope. Optimism is a passive condition. Hope is an active one. 
Optimism is the belief that the world is going to get better. Hope is the belief 
that if we work hard enough, together we might be able to make the world better. 
It does not require courage—just a certain kind of naivety—to be an optimist. 
But it requires a great deal of courage to have hope. No Jew, knowing what we 
do of history, can be an optimist. But no Jew, no believing Jew, can ever let go 
of hope. This is why, given that the twenty-first century is likely not to be an age 
of optimism, we really need an age of hope if we are to avoid an age of tragedy. 
And, you know, that is hope. That’s the first part of my journey into understand¬ 
ing how Jews survived because of hope. 

A second phenomenon is equally remarkable, perhaps in a way more remark¬ 
able: Jews were and are a nation. Our existence as a nation is defined in Exodus 
chapter 19:6: “You shall be for me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.” 

We are a nation. And yet, for twenty centuries Jews existed without any of the 
normal preconditions of a nation. They were scattered throughout the world, 
everywhere a minority. They had none of the things you normally associate with 
a nation. They had no state. They had no land. They had no home. They were 
dispersed throughout the world. They had no sovereignty. They had no power. 
Very often, they had no rights. Jews did not live in the same territory. They 
didn’t speak the same language. The Jews in Europe spoke Yiddish. The Jews in 
Spain and Portugal spoke Ladino. They spoke different languages! They didn’t 


Covenant and Hope in Civil Society 

even share the same fate. While the Jews of northern Europe were being mas¬ 
sacred in 1096 during the first Crusade, the Jews of Spain were enjoying their 
golden age. They lacked every feature of a nation, and yet they saw themselves 
and were seen by others as a nation. And they existed entirely as clusters of 
families gathered together in communities, and their central institutions were 
the home, the school, and the synagogue. I wanted to know how this happened. 
When I became Chief Rabbi, I got a little involved in politics. I began to study 
politics and the history of political thought, and that was when I discovered 
something absolutely extraordinary. I began to see that there is something in 
the Hebrew Bible that is almost completely missing from mainstream political 
thought in Europe, the thought of Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza, and Rousseau, all of 
whom were in active dialogue and were heavily influenced by the Hebrew Bible. 
Yet something in the Bible is not there in them at all. Each one of them was 
interested in the foundational moment of the political system. 

What you discover when you read the Bible closely is that there is not one foun¬ 
dational moment—there are two. The second one is found in 1 Samuel 8, when 
the people come to Samuel and ask him to appoint a king. What Samuel then 
does is execute a social contract very much on Hobbesian lines. He says, “Guys, 
you really don’t want a king. He’ll take your fields and your vineyards, he’ll take 
you into the army,” etc. He tells them that they’ll have to give up certain rights 
in order to create this central power, this leviathan, this king who will ensure the 
rule of law and defense of the realm. Nonetheless, they want this to happen. And 
that becomes a social contract that creates the Kingdom of Israel. However, that 
is the second, not the first, foundational moment. The first one happened several 
centuries earlier, at Mount Sinai in the days of Moses, when the people made 
not a contract but a covenant with God (Exod. 19 and 20). That is their birth as 
a nation. Perhaps today we would call it their birth as a society. What we have 
in the Bible is a more complex and subtle political philosophy than we find else¬ 
where in Western thought. We have two things: the social contract that creates a 
state, and the social covenant that creates a society (or, as we might call it, civil 
society), and these are quite different things. 

Let me move to the politics of now and explain how this works in contempo¬ 
rary European and maybe similarly in American terms. Politics for the last fifty 
years in Europe has been dominated by two institutions: the market and the 
state. If you’re on the right of politics you prefer the market, and if you’re on 
the left, you prefer the state. Between the two of them they exhaust the solutions 
to political problems. That is the choice, the market or the state. However, we 
know perfectly well that there are many social problems that cannot be solved 
by either the market or the state. Many of these problems are caused by the 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

breakdown of marriages and families, and the breakup of communities. It was 
those local institutions, families and communities, that Tocqueville, when he 
visited America in 1830 and 1832, regarded as the very foundations of society 
as a whole. Earlier, Edmund Burke in England, called families and communities 
“little platoons.” Somehow or other, families and communities are not institu¬ 
tions of either the market or the state. While people were beginning to notice 
the failure of politics to address these issues, academics from many different 
disciplines (economics, sociology, sociobiology, games theory) were beginning 
to see something fundamental: that competition—which is at the heart of the 
free market, at the heart of democratic politics, and at the heart of Darwinian 
biology—is not enough for any system to survive. Thinkers in these disciplines 
began to realize that any group needs to be held together by habits of coopera¬ 
tion, not competition. And they are essential, as economics, sociologists, and 
sociobiologists began to see in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. 

Cooperative habits are essential to what sociologists call trust, economists call 
social capital, and sociobiologists, now called evolutionary psychologists, call 
reciprocal altruism. When I brought up this issue of politics—state versus mar¬ 
ket on the one hand, and the logic of cooperation on the other—I suddenly real¬ 
ized that that is the heart of the distinction between social contract on the one 
hand and social covenant on the other. Commercial contracts create the market. 
The social contract creates the state. But the logic of cooperation doesn’t work 
on the basis of contract, it works on the basis of covenant. What is the differ¬ 
ence between a contract and a covenant? In a contract, two or more individuals 
pursuing their own interests come together to make an exchange for mutual 
benefit. In a covenant, two or more individuals, each respecting the dignity 
and freedom of the other, come together in a bond of loyalty and trust to share 
interests and sometimes even to share their lives, by pledging their faithfulness 
to one another and to do together what neither can do alone. So a contract is a 
transaction, but a covenant is a relationship. A contract is about interests, a cov¬ 
enant is about identity, about “we.” Contracts are about benefits, but covenants 
are about transformations. Whereas states and markets are created and sus¬ 
tained by contracts, families, friendships, and communities are held together by 
covenants. If we can’t think in covenantal terms, only in contractual ones, if all 
we can think of is state and market, or, in other words, power on the one hand 
or wealth on the other, then families will fracture, communities will atrophy, 
and society itself will fragment, which is exactly what has been happening for 
the last fifty years in all the nation-states of Europe. When you focus only on 
state and market, on contracts, and you forget about covenants, then families, 
communities, friendships, and loyalties begin to erode until they no longer hold 
society together. 


Covenant and Hope in Civil Society 

By understanding the difference between covenant and contract, I was first able 
to solve the question with which I began, which was, how did Jews survive for 
two thousand years as a nation without a state? The answer suddenly occurred 
to me because, despite all they had lost, with the state and with its social con¬ 
tract, the covenant remained. And that held them together. As families, as com¬ 
munities, it held them together. If you ever doubt the power of ideas remember 
that without the idea of covenant the Jewish people would have ceased to exist 
after the Roman conquest. It was only an idea that kept them alive. Second, 
it resolved for me the obvious question about the place of religion in politics. 
And the answer, given by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, 
is that the proper sphere of religion is in civil society itself, in that arena of 
covenantal relationships that have nothing to do with the state, nothing to do 
with the market, but everything to do with families, communities, charities, 
and congregations—all the things that have influence without having power. It 
was de Tocqueville who understood that it was those things that constituted the 
greatness of religion in America and made it the friend, not the enemy, of lib¬ 
erty. He called it the art of association, which was, for him, a people’s essential 
apprenticeship in liberty. 

This point had been made earlier, to my surprise, by the one Englishman who 
played a supporting part on the American side in the American Revolution. I’m 
feeling awkward because I’m claiming some kind of kinship to the one English¬ 
man who was on the American side. His name was Thomas Paine, author of the 
pamphlet Common Sense, which sold 100,000 copies in 1776, earning him the 
name “father of the American Revolution.” Paine begins Common Sense with 
the distinction between state and society, or, as he calls it, between government 
and society, and he bases it, exactly as I have done, on the Hebrew Bible. That’s 
what is fascinating, because Thomas Paine, as I’m sure you know, was an athe¬ 
ist. Because he was an atheist, he was able to read the Bible and recognize that 
it had a political dimension that made sense even to him, even in purely secular 
terms. I say this because I have not seen it in the literature. Paine offers a very 
elegant refutation of the famous argument of early John Rawls that the language 
of public reason means that you should not talk in religious terms or use reli¬ 
gious texts in political arguments. In a wonderful refutation, Thomas Paine used 
public reason, as an atheist, quoting the Bible. 

Having said something about hope on the one hand, and civil society and cove¬ 
nant on the other, it simply remains to ask: Are civil society and hope connected 
in any way? I think the simple answer is this: civil society is the natural habitat 
of hope, because hope is bom in families, sustained in communities, told in nar¬ 
ratives, rehearsed in ritual, and expressed in prayer. What would Jewish hope be 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

without Passover, our festival of freedom, when we tell that story of hope? What 
would Jewish hope be without the Day of Atonement, the day of repentance and 
forgiveness that tells us that however wrong we were in the past there is hope 
for us; that if we turn to God, he turns to us? Hope does not float in some remote 
disembodied Platonic metaphysical space. Hope, like language, is a social phe¬ 
nomenon; it is lived in the concreteness of a community and its canonical texts. 
In the last ten or twenty years, we’ve had wonderful substitutes for community, 
on the Web, blogosphere, YouTube, and Facebook. I regard these virtual substi¬ 
tutes for community as great, but they are not substitutes for the daily face-to- 
face encounters in which we become literate in the language of love and loyalty. 
Hope has its own ecology and it is bom whenever and whenever human beings 
reach out to God and to one another and discover that “though I walk through 
the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” Hope 
is the redemption of solitude. 

Friends, where are we in the twenty-first century—in the liberal, democratic 
West? Sadly, we seem to be left with three institutions in which people place 
their hopes: liberal democratic politics, the free market, and science and technol¬ 
ogy. Each one of them is a momentous achievement that we should value, but 
not one of them is able to answer the three great questions that each of us must 
ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? The liberal democratic 
polity gives us freedom. The market gives us choices. Technology gives us 
power. But none of them can tell us how to use that freedom, how to make those 
choices, how to exercise that power. And clearly, we do need something more. 
That something I call hope, covenant, and civil society, where we come together 
collectively and rediscover hope in the love we have for one another, which is a 
mirror image of the love God has for us. In a global economy, there are winners 
and losers. Without something like faith, there is nothing to give hope to the los¬ 
ers. A world without hope is a dangerous world; and that is why we have to work 
to bring hope back into our social ecology, through the strength of our families, 
the power of our communities, and our ability to reach out in love to friend and 
stranger alike. 

I hope I’ve shown in my words today that hope, government, and civil society 
are connected. They are not the only way to live; there are alternatives. There 
have been tragic cultures, and there have been optimistic cultures. But tragic 
cultures and optimistic cultures have a habit of dying, and it is hope cultures that 
survive. Because this has been a rather heavy lecture, I end with a personal anec¬ 
dote that has cheered me greatly. About eight years ago, I acquired a personal 
tutor in hope. It is called a satellite navigation system. It came with my car and 
I was absolutely fascinated by this thing. You key in your destination and a few 


Covenant and Hope in Civil Society 

seconds later a very polite lady tells you to go straight for three hundred yards 
and turn left. She tells you where to go. If Moses had had one of these things, 
we would’ve saved thirty-nine years at least. But what really fascinated me as I 
began to study this thing is clearly, whoever invented a satellite navigation sys¬ 
tem had never, ever met a Jewish driver. You see, what happens when this polite 
lady says, “Go straight for three hundred yards and turn left,” the Jewish driver 
says, “What does she know! I’ve been driving around here fifty years, I know 
you go three hundred yards and you turn right! ” And I am fascinated to see how 
this satellite navigation system responds to this strange and unexpected turn of 
events. After all, she’s only done what she was asked to do. What I’ve learned, 
first of all, is that this “person” is infinitely patient. She never loses her cool. 
When you do exactly the opposite of what you’ve been instructed to do, she gets 
quiet for a while, and then with enormous patience and tact she sends up a little 
signal, saying, “Recalculating the route.” Lo and behold, she tells you how to 
get there from the place that you, as a schlemiel, had got into by not listening to 
the instructions in the first place! From this I learned a basic principle in life: no 
matter how many wrong turns you take, and however lost you may be, if you 
know where you want to get, there is a route from here to there. If that is not a 
signal of hope, what is? ■ 



“The Promises of God”: New African Missionary 
Initiatives in the Lengthened Shadow of the 
1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference 

by Jehu J. Handles 

Jehu Handles is Associate Professor of the history of Christianity and global¬ 
ization, and Director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theo¬ 
logical Seminary. A leading researcher in migratory change and its impact on 
Christian missionary work, Dr. Handles gave the 2010 Students 'Lectureship 
on Missions at Princeton Theological Seminary. He delivered this lecture, the 
second of three, on November 30 in the main lounge. 

\L oday’s topic is one that I come to with just a tiny bit of trepidation. Yesterday 
evening one of the points I made was a general reference to the recent transfor¬ 
mations within global Christianity, often referred to as the “shift.” The sources 
of reference to this shift constantly strike me. Just recently I saw the following 
reference in an article in the journal Foreign Affairs: “Around the world religion 
is on the rise. It is growing in countries with a wide variety of religious tradi¬ 
tions and levels of economic development. Traditionally seen as a Western or 
European religion steeped in that continent’s culture, Christianity is now return¬ 
ing to its roots by becoming a post-Western religion dominated by the peoples, 
cultures, and countries of the global South. For U.S. policymakers—many of 
whom currently consider Islamism to be the most ardent religious challenge to 
Washington’s foreign policy—the politics of global Christianity may soon prove 
just as pivotal.” 1 

I read this excerpt just to make the point that nowhere have the recent transfor¬ 
mations within global Christianity been as dramatic as in Africa. The African 
experience epitomizes the shift not only in terms of its shared demographic scale 
but also in its unexpectedness and missionary significance, yet just a century 

1 Scott M. Thomas, “A Globalized God J Foreign Affairs 89, 6 (November/December, 2010). 
DOI: 10.3754/1937-8386.2010.31.12 


The Promises of God 

ago, very serious doubt remained in European missionary minds about the pros¬ 
pects of Christianity in Africa. This much was evident at the World Missionary 
Conference held in Edinburgh in 1910. Now here’s why I had a little trepidation. 
Given the fact that this is the hundredth anniversary of this historic meeting, I 
assume by now you have had your fill of discussions and references to Edin¬ 
burgh 1910. For those of you who have managed to avoid all those discussions 
and references, you probably knew it was too good to last. So I aim to spend just 
a brief time reviewing this meeting, because my main intention is to excavate 
the understanding of African Christianities that came out of it and why those 
understandings turned out to be such a major misread of what was happening on 
the continent. 

The Edinburgh 1910 Conference 

The conference met in Edinburgh and was spearheaded by two prominent Evan¬ 
gelical leaders from different nations— Joe Oldham of Great Britain, and John 
Mott of the United States. It was one of the most defining missionary gatherings 
in the history of Christianity, in that the meeting showcased Protestant mission¬ 
ary internationalism. The widespread view that it marked the beginning of the 
ecumenical movement is somewhat problematic given not only the fact that the 
conference planners rejected the title “ecumenical” and the movement itself 
really was a gathering of delegates not from churches or even denominations but 
from foreign missionary societies who were allotted places strictly on the basis 
of their annual income. Whatever consensus emerged from this meeting didn’t 
last too long either. But, convened at the height of Western colonial expansion, 
this historic meeting bristled with optimistic self-confidence. Its outlook mir¬ 
rored the age of empire. Its ideals reflected the overheated confidence of a move¬ 
ment at full tide. Here is what Ken Ross had to say: 

The territorial understanding of Christian expansion was allied with an 
activist mentality and a military metaphor. The conference was marked 
by the mood of the Protestant missionary movement, often expressed in 
the vocabulary of aggression, attack, conquest and crusade. Participants 
saw nothing incongruous in using the language of violent military cam¬ 
paigns to describe their missionary engagement and aspirations. The 
enthusiasm and drive which marked the conference drew much more 
than it realized on the optimistic self-confidence of imperial expansion 
and technological advance. The satellite of history exposes these weak- 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

nesses, yet it also points up the significance of Edinburgh 1910 in ways 
which were not possible at the time. 2 

A sense of urgency and self-confidence shines through the conference reports. 
The conveners were confident that it was possible to embark on a campaign that 
could take the gospel to all the non-Christian world. That is revealing because 
in keeping with a Christendom outlook, Edinburgh 1910 conceived of the world 
in terms of two distinct territorial blocks: Christendom and heathendom. In that 
sense it was not really about world mission, it was about mission to certain parts 
of the world. After much heated debate, significant sections of that world were 
excluded from the purview of the meeting because they were deemed either 
Christian or revealing Christian influence: these included African-American 
peoples in North America and South America. Latin America was also excluded 
because of ecclesiastical politics. Needless to say, Africa and Asia were central 
to its focus. This is important because it tells us something about why non-West¬ 
ern representation at the meeting was limited to a handful. 

Only nineteen of the 1,215 official delegates came from the non-Western world. 
The meeting was dominated by Anglo-American missionary representatives. 
Here is the breakdown: mainly British and North Americans were represented, 
169 from continental Europe, a couple of dozen or so from white colony South 
African and Australia, and only nineteen from the non-Western world. For the 
longest time, any book you read about this conference maintained that there was 
not a single African present. This was until very recently, when Brian Stanley 
in his definitive work on the movement unearthed the fact that there was a sole 
African in attendance at the meeting. 3 Reverend Mark Hayford from the Gold 
Coast, or Ghana, whom he described as an uncharacteristically westernized Afri¬ 
can. Hayford’s presence at this conference was remarkable both in its singularity 
and obscurity. It would take a century of scholarly research to finally bring his 
attendance to light, and what is more, Hayford is not mentioned in the official 
records of the conference. So, the non-Western world in terms of representation 
was on the periphery, even though non-Western representatives were allowed to 
give a few addresses and contributed to the debates. 

2 Kenneth Ross, “Edinburgh 1910: Its Place in History,” November 13, 2010. 

3 Brian Stanley, The World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh 1910 (Grand Rapids: William 
B. Eerdmans, 2009), 98. 


The Promises of God 

Focus on Africa: Optimism Weighed Down by Foreboding 

But what of Africa? European missionary agencies as a rule had never devoted 
their best resources or sent their finest and brightest to Africa. It was Asia, 
particularly China, that long captured the European missionary imagination. 

Yet Africa, a continent three times the size of Europe, could not be ignored. The 
report on Africa at this meeting estimated that it had 150 million souls await¬ 
ing the arrival of Christian messengers. It noted that there were four million 
Christians in Egypt and Ethiopia, whose church dated to apostolic times, but 
it dismissed those Christian communities as having long ceased to be mission¬ 
ary. Strangely, there was no reference to the more recently formed Christian 
communities in West Africa and East Africa. Thus, from the perspective of the 
Edinburgh conference, “The bulk of the population of Africa is immersed in 

But Edinburgh reflected a schizophrenic outlook as far as Africa was concerned. 
There was, on the one hand, unbounded confidence that no part of Africa was 
shut against the true missionary. This estimation of the ripeness of Africa was 
influenced by two major considerations. First, European advancement on the 
continent was now such that very few areas of the continent were free from 
colonial influence and accessibility. The second reason for this confidence was 
the view that “animistic” societies were incapable of mounting resistance to 
Christian missionaries. Now this reference to animism requires some explana¬ 

By the early twentieth century, animism, a term coined by British anthropolo¬ 
gist Edward Tyler, described belief systems and ritual practices that revolved 
around the worship of spirits and souls. Europeans used it to describe people 
they deemed to be in the lower stages of human development. So animism was 
used to describe practices that were not only pagan but also crude and irratio¬ 
nal. In fact, animism was the chief form and expression of what was considered 
heathenism. Now animism received considerable attention at Edinburgh 1910. 
The unanimity of opinion was that it was essentially weak, and intellectually 
and morally bankrupt, and therefore inevitably goes down under sustained mis¬ 
sionary effort. From this point of view, Africa provided an abundant harvest for 
missionary labor precisely because here, “as in no other continent was a dark, 
illiterate, dissevered and degraded paganism to be enlightened and lifted into 
the Church of Christ.” 4 So that was one reason for the optimism: the participants 

4 World Missionary Conference, 1910: Report of Commission 1—Carrying the Gospel to All 
the Non-Christian World (Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1910), 242. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

were confident that Africa was ripe for Christianity, that Africans would turn to 
the Christian faith in huge numbers. In the words of one of the reports, “There 
is some ground for thinking that the specific doctrines of the evangelical creed 
appeal more directly to the African mind than to the heathen mind in any other 
quarters of the world.” 5 

But this evidently positive, optimistic, and confident assessment of the prospects 
of Christianity on the continent was in stark contrast to reports and assessments 
that are best described as cautiously negative. The upbeat pronouncements about 
the ripeness of Africa for the gospel were virtually negated by a palpable appre¬ 
hension about the impact and influence of African Islam. The conference noted 
that there were two forces contending for the soul of Africa: Christianity, and 
Islam. And it gave Islam the upper hand by some margin. It estimated that there 
were sixty million Muslims on the African continent, more or less 40 percent 
of the non-Christian population. Missionary feedback indicated that Islam was 
more aggressive and was proceeding rapidly and continuously in all parts of the 
continent. In fact, in the words of one report, “Mohammedan traders are finding 
their way into the remotest parts of the continent and it is well known that every 
Mohammedan trader is more or less a Mohammedan missionary.” 6 And so the 
official conclusion from the assessment about Africa and the African continent 
recognized that it faced a defining moment in its history, and it concluded that if 
things continue as they are now tending, “Africa may become a Mohammedan 
continent.” 7 

“Through a Glass, Darkly” 

As it turned out, the Edinburgh 1910 conference was, in the words of the apostle 
Paul, “peering through a glass darkly.” At first glance there is much to justify 
this cautious pessimism. In 1900, there were roughly nine to ten million Chris¬ 
tians in Africa, just under 10 percent of the population. Continent-wide, the 
Christian presence appeared precarious. Christian communities existed merely 
as minority groups; recognizable Christian presence was nonexistent in many 
areas; Muslims outnumbered Christians six to one. In other words, the opening 
decade of the twentieth century provided very little indication of the phenomenal 
and unparalleled growth that would transform African Christianity into a promi¬ 
nent expression and representation of global Christianity by the closing decade. 

5 World Missionary Conference, 1910: Report of Commission 4—the Missionary Message in 
Relation to Non-Christian Religions (Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1910), 31. 

6 World Missionary Conference, 1910: Report of Commission 1, 21. 

7 Ibid., 20. 


The Promises of God 

How did Edinburgh get it wrong? They were not prophets, but the neglect of 
African Christian communities already in existence—especially the lack of 
acknowledgement of the huge role that African agencies and African initiatives 
had played in the spread of the gospel up to that point—is perplexing. Then 
again, missionary thinking then and now privileged European activity and Euro¬ 
pean presence. And Edinburgh 1910, meeting at the height of this scrambled era, 
linked its assessments and its calculations to the designs and controlling efforts 
of European powers. It was convinced that the spread of Christianity in Africa 
and elsewhere depended as far as human means go on the actions and resources 
of the Western Church. 

The African Story 

So we must allow for the possibility that there existed a parallel universe, so 
to speak, outside the control of European missionary agency, beyond the range 
of its perceptions and cognitive framework. From the start African initiatives, 
African agency and creative energies were vital to the establishment and spread 
of Christianity on the continent. It could not be otherwise. Yes, most European 
missionaries enjoyed enormous influence and venerated status. Yes, European 
missionary clout and resources invariably paved the way for missionary expan¬ 
sion. Yet these initial steps should not be equated with Christian conversion. For¬ 
eign action and influence was everywhere provisional and subject to limitations. 
Preaching of the gospel by European missionaries seldom produced many or 
mass conversions. In fact, the majority of Africans had only minimal exposure to 
a white missionary. European missionaries grew dramatically in numbers in the 
early decades of the twentieth century. But African Christian agents increased 
even more during that period, and the ratio of African agents to Europeans was 
at least six to one. Almost everywhere, they were the ones who formed the 
vanguard of Christian expansion on the continent. In short, the growth of Chris¬ 
tianity in Africa was largely the fruit of African enterprise. The vast majority of 
Africans had heard the gospel from other Africans. That is what Edinburgh 1910 
ignored in its calculations. 

A century later, the nature and dynamism of African Christianity confounds its 
prognosis. Islam in Africa has indeed expanded vigorously, but so has Christi¬ 
anity. In 1910, the African mission field had the smallest number of Christians 
of any continent outside Oceania. By the end of the century, Africa was trans¬ 
formed into an area experiencing the fastest growth of any region in the world. 
From roughly nine million or so in 1900, African Christians have mushroomed 
to over 360 million, over 40 percent of the population. This rate of growth has 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

no parallels in the history of Christianity. The World Christian Encyclopedia 
calculates that the church in Europe and North America is losing an estimated 
6,000 church members a day. African Christians are increasing at a rate of 
23,000 new Christians a day. When defections from the faith are counted for 
the net increase, in other words, the new additions to the church is at least 1.5 
million a year. If the current trend continues, the African Christian population 
would be second only to Latin America in terms of size. 

African Migrations and the New Missionary Movement 

We find ourselves now compelled to recognize that African Christianity has 
become integral to any assessment of global Christianity. African Christian¬ 
ity has emerged as a major center and factor in the global Christian missionary 
movement. It’s a complex story. Throughout Africa, the decades that followed 
political independence were marked by endemic political chaos and economic 
crisis. Myriad catastrophes afflicted the continent. It was in this context that 
these new African Pentecostal movements emerged, and the growth has been 
nothing less than extraordinary. But as African Christianity has grown, Africans 
have been dislodged from their continent in massive numbers. There is a mam¬ 
moth tide of migrants of Africans both within and outward from the continent. 
The two factors are linked; the massive growth of Christianity and the mas¬ 
sive migration of Africans have combined to galvanize African Christianity as 
a major missionary force, and many of these African migrants have settled in 
destination countries outside Africa and established new churches and Christian 
communities. By the end of the century, Africans were widely dispersed among 
wealthy industrialized countries of the north, and the volume continues to grow. 

Every Christian migrant is a potential missionary. By the year 2000, African 
Christians in Europe numbered in excess of three million. In Europe in particu¬ 
lar, their vitality has contributed sharply to the growth of Christian communities. 
In Britain, the European country with the longest ties to Africa, African churches 
by 2000 accounted for more than 3,000 congregations. A century ago, Charles 
Spurgeon’s 500-seat Metropolitan Tabernacle at Elephant and Castle in South 
London was the largest Baptist church, with thousands of white English wor¬ 
shippers. Today, the largest Baptist church in Britain is the Calvary Charismatic 
Church led by Ghanaian pastor Francis Sarpong. The congregation is mainly 
composed of Africans and African immigrants. As some of you may know, the 
largest church in the UK, and for that matter, in Western Europe, is a Nigerian- 
led Kingsway International Christian Centre, established in 1992. It has grown 
from three hundred worshippers to about 12,000 meeting on any given Sunday. 


The Promises of God 

We can multiply the examples. The Redeemed Christian Church of God, a 
Nigerian-based movement, established its first church in Britain in 1989. Within 
fifteen years it had expanded to 141 churches with a total of eighteen thousand 
members. And, of course, the best known fact is that the largest church in all 
of Europe is a 25,000-member Embassy for the Blessed Kingdom of God for 
All Nations, in Kiev, Ukraine, founded in 1993 by Sunday Adelaja. Here in the 
United States, African churches have also expanded rapidly since the 1980s. And 
the rise of this movement, its vigorous missionary expansion, is clearly beyond 
the reckoning of the minds at Edinburgh 1910. 

The American Experience 

Let’s talk about the American experience. America is a quintessential immigrant 
nation. Throughout the history of this country, immigrant congregations have 
acted as bastions of fervent religiosity, evangelized marginalized communities, 
and given tremendous boosts to foreign missionary movements. We still look 
at 1910 as kind of a peak of immigrant intake, not in terms of sheer numbers 
but in terms of immigrants as a percentage of the population. But we’re getting 
very close to that peak again. The United States is once again the main destina¬ 
tion of international migrants. International migrants account for 13 percent of 
the American population, with the prospect of rising to 19 percent (the earlier, 
original, peak, in 1910, was actually 14.3 percent). So there is a very clear indi¬ 
cation that the current trajectory will surpass that. It is important to know that 90 
percent of the new migrants arrived after 1960 and that they come from over 150 
countries. The current wave of immigration, basically from 1965, has already 
transformed the United States into the most diverse nation on the planet. There is 
every indication that the impact of this new wave of immigrants on the religious 
landscape is likely to be more extensive than that of any previous wave. 

American and the New African Immigrants 

What about the African element? The presence of Africans in the United 
States has a long and significant and, some would say, painful history. In 1800, 
America had the largest community of Africans anywhere in the world outside 
Africa. When slavery was eventually abolished, in 1865, there were roughly 4.5 
million Africans in the United States, or 14 percent of the population. But in 
part because of a lack of colonial ties, and the state of Africans in this country, 
very few Africans migrated voluntarily to the United States in the eighteenth and 
nineteenth centuries. Those Africans who did migrate typically were whites from 
Egypt, Cape Verde, and South Africa. Black Africans would begin to feature 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

prominently in voluntary African migration to the United States only after the 
1970s. Yet by the closing decade of the twentieth century, over 38,000 Africans 
were being admitted annually into the United States, a higher intake than at any 
time in its history, even including the period of the slave trade. The United States 
has become the chief destination among industrialized countries of African 
immigrants. In fact, African immigrants represent one of the fastest rising groups 
within the immigrant population, even though it still holds a very small percent¬ 
age of all immigrants in this country. 

Let me give you a very quick profile of African immigrants. More than 75 
percent arrived in the country after 1990. Immigrants from Nigeria outnumber 
all other nationalities from the continent. The majority come from Anglophone 
West Africa. The African immigrants are among the most youthful of the new 
immigrants in this country. Females account for roughly 45 percent of the total. 
Educational attainment among them is quite high, much higher than most immi¬ 
grant groups and even higher in some cases than the native population. African 
immigrants are also more proficient in English overall than are the foreign bom. 

Like all other immigrant groups, when African immigrants arrive, they form 
associations and depend on social networks, primarily religious organizations. 
Churches play a significant role in identity formation, economic survival, and 
spiritual nurture of these groups. But these churches and religious communities 
also take missionary initiatives very seriously. The majority of African churches 
in this country, indeed in the West, start as a regular Bible study meeting in 
somebody’s apartment. From there, they typically grow rapidly, while exhibiting 
a very strong missionary impulse. 

The Redeemed Christian Church of God is the largest African Pentecostal 
church in the United States. It has more than 6,000 parishes worldwide in more 
than eighty countries and more than two million members. The first Redeemed 
Christian Church of God parish was established in the United States in 1992 
in Detroit, Michigan. Twelve families led by an engineer employed by Ford 
motors, who was a Nigerian immigrant. By 2005, there were 175 Redeemed 
Christian Church of God parishes in the United States with at least 10,000 
members. That same year, the church bought a five-hundred-acre property in 
Floyd, Texas, worth millions of dollars. This property is to be developed as the 
movement’s headquarters. By 2008, or the last time I checked, there were in the 
United States three hundred Redeemed Christian Church of God parishes. The 
Redeemed Christian Church of God is an example of an institutional movement. 
In actual fact, the majority of African immigrant congregations or churches start 
as individuals initiatives. 


The Promises of God 

Let me tell you the story of Bishop Darlingston Johnston, of Bethel World 
Outreach Church, Michigan. You may recall Liberia’s seven-year civil war. It 
claimed 250,000 lives and produced over one million refugees. Among the many 
churches in the capital, Monrovia, was Bethel World Outreach, a vibrant and 
flourishing ministry headed by Darlingston Johnston. It was one of the fastest- 
growing churches in the country, with over two thousand members. In 1990, just 
when the situation in his country was beginning to spiral out of control, Dar¬ 
lingston Johnston left Liberia to attend a conference here in the United States. 

It was not his first trip to the United States. In fact he had spent ten years in the 
United States studying, acquiring various degrees. But this time, while he was in 
the United States, Liberia suffered a profound political and social disintegration. 

At first it seemed like their prolonged stay would last only a matter of months. 
But because of the Liberian situation, this ruinous civil war, the months turned 
into years. So an individual who came as a visitor became a displaced refugee. 
Darlingston Johnston began to pray, as he explains it, and seek direction from 
God. The divine response, he recounts, was clear and emphatic: “Don’t be refu¬ 
gees, be missionaries.” That was a message he had from the Lord. So in August 
1990 he got together a group of seventeen Liberians and started Sunday wor¬ 
ship, at Blackburn University Center at Howard University in Washington, DC. 
After two months they had grown to forty members, so they moved to a different 
meeting place. After two years of growth, they moved to an old movie theatre 
on Georgia Avenue in the heart of Silver Spring. In the space of ten years, what 
began as a small Liberian fellowship had flowered into a community of faith 
comprising people from forty-five different nations. 

Bethel World Outreach Church is now one of the largest African immigrant 
churches in this country, with a membership of over three thousand. Average 
attendance at its three Sunday services, the first of which is conducted entirely 
in French, was 1,300 when I last checked three years ago. Not only that, it 
has grown from one church to over two hundred churches globally, with a 
total membership of 30,000 under the name Bethel World Outreach Ministries 
International. It not only plants churches and conducts evangelistic meetings in 
different parts of the world, it also builds schools, invests in economic projects, 
and engages in various humanitarian endeavors. 

Out of Africa, where the massive growth of Christianity has taken place in a 
context of extensive pathological crises , has emerged a phenomenal mission¬ 
ary movement. The rate of growth of African churches, in the United States and 
Europe, is quite astonishing. When I did my research on these churches six years 
ago, I found out that 10 percent of the pastors had a doctorate, and many of 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

them emphasized not only spiritual empowerment but attaining success within 
American society as part of their message. These churches everywhere place 
supreme emphasis not only on personal faith and the power of the gospel, but on 
the power of the gospel to deliver, to heal, to prosper, and to transform the socio¬ 
political order. Everywhere, the spiritual element is strongly emphasized. 

The outlook remains complex. For these churches, encounter with Western soci¬ 
eties is attended by complex assimilation patterns and transnational existence. 
The research suggests that their capacity for cross-cultural outreach increases 
over time as they adapt to their environment. The extent to which they will 
impact Western society remains an open question, but impact it they will. 

The Edinburgh 1910 conference surprises us occasionally. As you read through 
its reports every now and then, you come across a statement that is written with 
striking clarity but also with prophetic insight. One such statement reads thus: 
“The best converts of the soil of uncivilized heathenism according to the evi¬ 
dence received, represent a beautiful type of piety, and just as many apparent as 
we learned religious lessons by coming into touch with the piety of childhood, 
so it may well happen that the Christianity of Europe is destined to be recalled if 
not to forgotten truths, at least to neglected graces by the infant churches that are 
just beginning to live their lives on the basis of mercy, the commandments, and 
the promises of God.” 8 Today, our own calculations and predictions are safe only 
when they are also informed by the promises of God. a 

World Missionary Conference, 1910: Report of Commission 4, 36 f. 



The Flesh Became (the) Word: 
Constructing Counternarratives for 
Gender, Race, and Class 

by Jacqui Lewis 

The Reverend Dr. Jacqui Lewis is senior minister at Middle Collegiate Church 
in New York City and a nationally recognized speaker and preacher on the 
topics of racial justice and reconciliation. She gave the Women in Church and 
Ministry Lecture on April 8, 2010, in the Main Lounge of the Mackay Campus 


A he last time this lecture was scheduled, there was a snowstorm and today 
it’s like summer! In the interim, my congregation and I experienced a thought¬ 
ful Lenten season. My husband I took a research Sabbath to South Africa and 
Ghana, and we returned to spend Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter with my 
congregation in New York. Holy Week at Middle Church was a great experience, 
with Jesus Christ Superstar on Monday, a Seder/Agape meal on Thursday, and 
a celebration of El Viernes Santo with a Spanish cantor, flamenco dancing, and a 
tenebrea celebration on Friday. On Sunday we had a sunrise celebration and two 
other worship celebrations with two choirs, brass, and children singing. I hope 
your Easter was amazing! 

My parents were with us for Holy Week, and spending time with them was a 
joy. They are seventy-three and seventy-six, young to my mind but older than 
they ever have been, of course. They move more slowly; they think about the 
end of their lives. When I am with them, I realize how very fortunate I am. I am 
not sure exactly how they did what they did—raising five of us, sending us all 
to college, teaching us to be confident in a world that was difficult for them and 
that can still be difficult for people of color. 

When I am with them, 1 realize that I have spent a lot of time in my life thinking 
about what they did—for better or for worse—to shape my siblings and me into 

DOI: 10.3754/1937-8386.2010.31.13 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

the people we have become. I did not always speak of it this way, but I would 
say the question of how we become a self has been a lifelong inquiry. I think the 
question began to take place in my own life, and it became the research question 
for my Ph.D. Most scholars will say that their research questions are at least in 
part autobiographical. Given who my parents are, how did I get to be me, and 
my siblings who they are? Why are we so different? Why are all five of us so 
much alike—driven, gregarious? My parents—two people from Mississippi, 
raised by single moms in the Jim Crow south, starting a family on an Air Force 
base in Nebraska, migrating to Chicago in the early sixties, with the Kennedys 
and King as heroes—how did they teach me and my siblings to love everybody, 
to be comfortable with white folks, to have open minds? How did they do that? I 
recall wondering at a fairly early age. 

What were the other factors that gave each of us a sense of racial identity, a 
sense of gender identity? What gave us our sense of place in this country and as 
global citizens? They pushed us very hard; education was a must; they exposed 
us to music and the arts. Each of us has achieved most of what they hoped for 
us, which was to be more than they could be. We are teachers and lawyers and 
army colonels and preachers and entrepreneurs. We own homes and can travel 
and, to our parents’ eyes, we are learned and prosperous. Our stories are more 
than they dreamed would happen to and for us—how did that happen? We have 
stretched beyond what they could have imagined as Black folk bom during the 
Depression, walking past the high school closest to them to the Colored High 
School; graduating from high school and attending college on the G.I. Bill, my 
dad and mom are witnesses to a narrative arc outside of their best hopes for their 
five children. 

How did that happen, and what else shaped our stories? I realize that these ques¬ 
tions of identity—race, gender, class—are questions I had long before I heard 
the term womanist and was aware of the ways they are inextricably conjoined in 
our culture and around the globe. 

I thought about it when listening to Freda Gardner talk about education and Jim 
Loder talk about the transforming moment. I thought about it when Brian Blount 
was talking about the gospel creating a pocket of resistance or what I now call 
a countemarrative to the status quo. I thought about identity when I was learn¬ 
ing to preach with Cleo La Rue and Jim Kay—thought about it in classes that 
addressed the empire with Mark Taylor and ethics with Peter Paris. I thought 
about identity when thinking about theology and feminism with Kathy Saken- 


The Flesh Became (the) Word 

How do folk get to be the folk they are, and what role does the Church have in 
re-creating or transforming that identity toward wholeness and shaloml 

I thought about identity when I was a pastor in Trenton, thinking about how 
the Church could empower poor women and children to be more in charge of 
their lives—how they could take in the Holy as a resource for transformation. I 
thought about how their lives could be restored—re-storied—because of Spirit at 
work. Then, after six or so years in that new church development named Imani, 
after preaching and teaching and thinking about the ways to sustain a trans¬ 
forming moment, I went back to graduate school to work on it in a program of 
psychology and religion. I wrote a book about it, The Power of Stories, and I am 
talking to you about it today. 

My core thesis is that we become the words that are spoken to us and about us: 
The flesh becomes the word. We are storied selves. And the self can be re-storied 
with new, transformative countemarratives around race, gender, sexual orienta¬ 
tion, and class. Re-storying identity is a task for congregational and ministry 
leaders. This is a lecture on leadership. 

I have a lot to say to you in only an hour. So let me start by locating myself in 
this conversation, then offering a disclaimer, and finally giving us some bullet 
points on which to focus. In terms of location, I am an oldest child who thinks 
really hard about what makes the world turn. I think of myself as a womanist 
scholar who is a preacher and pastor first. I know my own subjectivity shapes 
the manner in which I ask questions and shapes my interpretive lens; therefore, 
reflexivity—reflecting on my own experience—is always key. 

As a womanist, I consider the interrelationship of race, class, and gender 
issues—and that womanist ethics and theology are often constructed from 
surviving and thriving, and also often transmitted in story. 1 My understanding 
of Christian social ethics is that an integrated approach to psychological, social, 
and spiritual stories is required to achieve a methodology that emulates the 
whole-person liberation standards of the gospel. 2 

Now, my disclaimer. Although I am very interested in the ways the overlapping 
storylines of race, class, and gender affect identity development, for this talk I 

1 For Katie Cannon’s treatment of narrating ethics, see Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul 
of the Black Community (New York: Continuum, 1995); and Black Womanist Ethics (Atlanta: 
Scholars Press, 1988). 

2 Traci C. West, Wounds of the Spirit: Black Women, Violence , and Resistance Ethics (New 
York: New York University Press, 1999). 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

am focusing most on racial/ethnic identity, primarily because of time but also 
because I agree with Thompson and Carter that race is the salient issue in Ameri¬ 
can culture today. 3 

Based on several sources on race, Jones defined it, in part, as “a group of people 
who share biological factors that come to signify group membership and the 
social meaning such membership has in the society at large.” 4 Race as a scien¬ 
tific construct has been widely questioned; scholars have noted that it is a social 
construct used to classify and oppress people. 5 Ethnicity refers to connectedness 
based on commonalities, such as region, religion, or nationality. 6 Race takes 
on ethnic meanings when members of that biological group have an evolved 
culture—specific ways of living to meet biological and psychosocial needs. In a 
racist culture, race has social and economic meanings. For the purposes of this 
talk and in most of my work, I am using the term racial/ethnic to emphasize the 
cultural and social meanings attributed to the construct of race in America. 

Now, the bullet points. I think these kinds of markers help to focus us. And then 
I will go back and say some more about the core thesis, theoretically, and some 
practical implications I think this has for our ministries. 

1. We are storied selves. Identity development is the process of finding one’s 
own narrative voice amidst the speech of, and in dialog with, others as we inter¬ 
pret and make meaning of identity stories. We have complex, multiple identities 
(e.g., gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religious traditions, and belief 
systems). We can therefore think of identity as how these overlapping inter¬ 
weaving multitextured stories inform one another. Health might be thought of 
as narrating cohesive (rather than fragmented), authentic (rather than false), and 
verifiable (as opposed to self-deluded) storied selves. 

2. Call can be thought of as learning to discern and hear the voice that is the 
story that God is writing with us and has written for us. Accepting our call 
means coauthoring that story with God and with our community. Helping our 

3 Calmer E. Thompson and Robert T. Carter, eds., Racial Identity Theory: Applications to 
Individual, Group, and Organizational Interventions (Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 
1997), xvi. 

4 James William Jones, *'The Relational Self: Contemporary' Psychoanalysis Reconsiders Reli¬ 
gion,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 59 (1991): 119-35; James William Jones, 
Contemporary Psychoanalysis and Religion: Transference and Transcendence (New Haven: 
Yale University Press, 1991). 

5 Thompson and Carter, Racial Identity Theory. 

6 Elaine Pinderhughes, Understanding Race, Ethnicity, and Power: The Key to Efficacy in 
Clinical Practice (New York: Free Press, 1989). 


The Flesh Became (the) Word 

congregants to follow their calls to God’s future and to ministry (the priesthood 
of all believers) is a task of leaders. 

3. Howard Gardner says that leaders are those who tell stories that effectively 
wrestle with the stories that already populate the minds of others. 7 1 agree, and 
would add that the stories leaders tell are formed by their storied selves, and 
those stories help coauthor group identity or story. So, the vision leaders articu¬ 
late is affected by their vision of themselves. Preaching is truth through per¬ 
sonality; storying God’s vision comes through our own stories. 8 We need to be 
self-aware and self-critical, and we need to exercise care of the power we have 
to story others’ lives. Our exegetical lenses need to turn toward ourselves with a 
critical analysis, so that our “stuff’ does not impinge the gospel’s transforming 

4. Congregations are coauthoring a group identity and a group call, informed 
not only by the stories of leaders but also by members’ stories and master stories 
(the biblical narratives and binding narratives, like “chosenness,” vision, mis¬ 
sion, etc.). Therefore, the preacher/leader is a griot who exegetes the stories 

of the congregation (living texts), the biblical stories, and cultural stories, and 
weaves them together, making meaning of them, re-forming them. The griot is a 
preacher/leader/artist who stories the vision of God’s reign, by any means neces¬ 
sary and through all “languages” necessary. This is called multivocality. 

5. The preacher/leader/artist has tools to use to create what Brian Blount calls a 
pocket of resistance in a culture antithetical to the gospel. 9 1 say we best rehearse 
the reign of God in culturally diverse settings. If we are to restory the cultural 
narrative(s) on race, gender, and class, our communities of faith need to reflect 
the Revelation 7:9 vision of many voices and tribes all together praising God. 

In that context, the whole worship experience should story the vision—hymns, 
music, ritual, poetry, dance, where people sit, who participates in worship, how 
children are treated—all of these are tools in the griot’s bag. The tools help to 
tell the story in the diverse cultural languages of those gathered. The arts remind 
us that the Pentecost paradigm is about the miracle of speaking in diverse 
tongues so that the good news is heard. 

7 Howard E. Gardner, Leading Minds: An Anatomv of Leadership (New York: Basic Books, 

8 Phillips Brooks, The Joy of Preaching (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1989). 

9 Brian Blount and Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, eds., Making Room at the Table: An Invitation to 
Multicultural Worship (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001). 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

6. The preacher/leader/artist is the resident theologian and worship producer. She 
plans ahead, prepares the celebration, casts “artists,” sets a context, commissions 
the work, and coaches the participants. The preacher/leader/artist is the execu¬ 
tive producer. The producer sets a budget, connects worship to the larger vision, 
communicates with and casts lay leaders and artists, evaluates, and carries les¬ 
sons into the system. Leading diversity means purposeful planning of worship 

to be inclusive, non-elitist, multiracial, and multicultural expression of God’s 
shalom. Our aim is to further the vision of deeper connections to God and to one 
another so that diversity is not superficial but rather is transformative. 

7. The preacher/leader/artist stories the multiracial/multicultural vision not only 
in worship but through education. Creating contexts for learning and for deeper 
relating as communities in order to generate a common storyline is the preacher/ 
leader/artist’s job. Jesus’ ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing is our 
model for teaching the transformative vision through purposeful planning of 
courses and experiences that ignite learning in the spirit. 

8. The preacher/leader/artist is a developer of other leaders. Artists, directors, 
teachers, liturgists, mentors, board members, and lay leaders all catch the vision 
and become bearers of the vision for a multiracial, multicultural, multiclass, 
gender- and sexual-orientation-diverse future. One-on-ones (story-sharing) and 
mentoring are critical to growing leaders in your system. 

We Need to Tell New Stories 

Howard Gardner, professor of cognition and education at Harvard, may be best 
known for his theory of multiple intelligences, a critique of the notion of a single 
intelligence that can be measured by standard psychometric instruments. 10 Gard¬ 
ner, both a developmental psychologist and a neuropsychologist, has focused his 
work on leadership on the stories leaders. 11,12 

In a study of eleven leaders, Gardner argues that the “ultimate impact of the 
leader depends most significantly on the particular story that he or she relates or 
embodies and the receptions to that story on the part of audiences (or collabora¬ 
tors or followers).” Gardner says further that the stories told are not headlines or 

10 Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligence (New York: Basic 
Books, 1983). 

11 Howard Gardner, Multiple Intelligences: The Theorv in Practice (New York: Basic Books, 

12 Howard Gardner, Leading Minds (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 14. 


The Flesh Became (the) Word 

snapshots, but “an unfolding drama in which they—leader and followers—are 
the principle characters or heroes.” Leaders tell stories that effectively wrestle 
with the stories already existing in the minds of others, and the most compelling 
stories are the ones that have to do with personal and group identity. Thus, effec¬ 
tive leaders succeed in conveying a new version of a group’s story that “makes 
sense ... at a particular historical moment, in terms of where they have been and 
where they would like to go.” 13 

The Theo-ethics of the Border: Jesus’ Mestizo Model 

Virgilio Elizondo, a Roman Catholic priest and professor of theology, passion¬ 
ately describes the ethics of life on the border of two cultures in The Future Is 
Mestizo: Life Where Cultures Meet. Elizondo argues that mestizaje, the process 
through which peoples mix biologically and culturally, makes a new people, 
physically and socio-culturally. As Elizondo reminds us, Jesus’ life in Nazareth 
of Galilee meant constant border crossing; this made Jesus, culturally and lin¬ 
guistically, a mestizo, “assuming unto himself the great traditions that flourished 
in his home territory.” 14 All kinds of people passed through this border town 
occupied by Roman soldiers. Encountering other cultures shaped Jesus’ iden¬ 
tity, making Him—like Elizondo, Anzaldua, and our study leaders—a border 
person. 15 

What can we learn about border living from Jesus, the one who, as a Galilean, 
was mestizo and a border-crosser? One implication for the church is that “in His 
Mestizo existence Jesus breaks the barriers of separation, as does every mestizo, 
and already begins to live a new unity... We usher in a new life for the better¬ 
ment of everyone when we freely and consciously assume the great traditions 
flowing through our veins and transcend them, not by denying either but by 

13 Ibid. 

14 Virgilio R Elizondo, The Future Is Mestizo: Life Where Cultures Meet (Boulder: University 
Press of Colorado, 2000), 79. 

15 Elizondo and others suggest that Jesus' racial/ethnic identity was mestizo, or mixed, as well. 
See Cain H. Felder, Troubling Biblical Waters: Race, Class, and Family (Maryknoll: Orbis 
Books, 1989); Cain H. Felder, C.H. (1989). Felder, C.H. (1993). "Recovering Multicultural- 
ism in Scripture, in The Original African Heritage Study Bible, ed. Cain H. Felder (Nashville: 
James C. Winston Publishing Company, 1993); Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Coming Together: 

The Bible's Message in an Age of Diversity’ (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1995); Kelly Brown 
Douglas, The Black Christ. Vol. 9 of The Bishop Henry McNeal Turner Studies in North Ameri¬ 
can Black Religion (New York: Orbis Books, 1994); R. S. Sugirtharajah, Asian Faces of Jesus. 
Faith and Cultures Series (New York: Orbis Books, 1993). For me, the multicultural/multi¬ 
racial identity of the historic Jesus is a liberating fact, just as important as his poor, humble 
beginnings. God used an unlikely agent to work God's wonders in the world; it is a strategy 
that God has used repeatedly. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

synthesizing them into something new... The Mestizo affirms both the identities 
received while offering something new to both.” 16 

Even if one does not embrace the racial/ethnic or cultural mestizaje of Jesus, the 
gospels tell stories of Jesus crossing cultic borders as well. His table fellowship 
was scandalous; he broke bread with sinners and tax collectors. He spoke to the 
unspeakable, he touched the untouchable. 17 He challenged the cultic status quo. 

Elizondo draws on his own storied self as he analyzes the parallels between the 
border crossing of Jesus and his own. Early school days in a German Catholic 
School in Texas were painful for young Virgilio. His language was barred, the 
food was strange, and he was lonely. Every day, he went to school feeling guilt 
and shame for being different. Reflecting on his experiences later, Elizondo 
writes, “As I look into the past and try to understand it from my present perspec¬ 
tive many years later, I re-experience the original pain, sadness, embarrassment, 
ambiguity, frustration, and the sense of seeking refuge by being alone. Yet I can 
also see that it was already the beginning of the formation of the consciousness 
of a new existence—a new mestizaje. The daily border crossing was having its 
effect on me. I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t even know why it had to be. 
But that constant crossing became the most ordinary thing in my life. 18 

This Is My Story, This Is My Song 

We all know the story: 

In the beginning, God. Calling the world into existence, 
creating for pure joy a people. 

In the middle, people, searching and getting lost; 
faithfulness and failures. False starts and false gods. 

In the end, all of the people, from all tribes and nations, praising God in 
one voice! 

16 Elizondo, The Future Is Mestizo, 84. 

17 For an excellent exegesis of Jesus as a border crosser in the Temple of Jerusalem, see Brian 
Blount’s essay “The Apocalypse of Worship: A House of Prayer for ALL the Nations,” in Mak¬ 
ing Room at the Table: An Invitation to Multicultural Worship, edited by Brian Blount and 
Leonora Tubbs Tisdale (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2001), 16-29. 

18 Elizondo, The Future Is Mestizo, 17. 


The Flesh Became (the) Word 

That is the story the Church is called to co-author. Right here, right now, on 
earth, as it is in heaven. 

In the end, well, the end has not been written, but what carries across is God 
made us, God loves us, God keeps coming to show us who God is, even comes 
to be with us so we can really get it. God pursues us, we run; God pursues us 
again and again; God welcomes us home when we get tired of running, tired of 
resisting; and God is coming again to claim us. It is a fantastic story—it is our 
script for life, isn’t it? 

There is a text in our scripture about Nicodemus and Jesus and this whole idea 
of being born again or born anew. The words there have several meanings. Bom 
again, bom from above. Bom or conceived; could be very confusing. But the 
you in the text is plural—not individual. I think Jesus was telling Nicodemus 
that his ideas of salvation need to be reconceived. I’m thinking about the story of 
race in America when I say this. Our notions of race, class, and gender need to 
be bom again, or reconceived. 

America needs to be restoried. Our country has been built on a story that is a 
lie—a story that is called racism. In that story some people are privileged. In 
that story some people are devalued. In that story housing patterns are based on 
race. In that story school budgets go along with housing. In that story congre¬ 
gations are segregated because housing patterns are segregated. In that story 
Martin Luther King’s quote in 1965 that 11:00 Sunday morning is still the most 
segregated hour in America, in that story it’s still true. In that story even con¬ 
gregational life is affected by race. In that story—which is a lie because there is 
only one race, which is the human race—fear and prejudice make us suspicious 
and fearful of one another. And we do not join our hearts and our minds together 
as one. And Jesus told Nicodemus we have to be reconceived. Race, gender, and 
class in America need to be reconceived. 

I believe that the Church, and I mean all of the Church, is called to be the leader 
that restories race in America. The Church must proclaim God’s justice that rolls 
down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. I believe that we are 
the ones who are prophetically called to make sure that all of God’s people— 
black, white, brown, and yellow, male and female, rich and poor—are able to 
envision the Reign of God. 

In the story that is God’s reign, there is newness in the way we love one another, 
in the way we make community together, in the way we practice together, hos¬ 
pitality, in the way that we willingly and joyfully benefit and bless one another. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

And the way we wrestle together with the tough issues, and take time to hear 
one another, and be faithful to one another. And the way that we are baptized 
into one baptism, eat of one bread, and drink of one cup. We confess one name 
and are obedient to one Lord and one Spirit. And that’s the Spirit that we heard 
yesterday is poured out into our hearts so that we can love one another. 

Our notion of ministry, Jesus told Nicodemus, need to be reconceived, reimag¬ 
ined, reformed, and always reforming on the way to the future that is the Reign 
of God. We practice the Reign of God right here, right now. We practice in our 

And so I end on a very practical note with three things I hope we can do, as 
we construct countemarratives about race, class and gender. First, we need to 
develop a border consciousness. What I mean by that is we need to develop 
in ourselves a kind of sense of “both/and,” a “both/andness.” In his seminal 
book, The Souls of Black Folks , W. E. B. Du Bois called this a double con¬ 
sciousness. He said that black people in America—he called them Negroes 
then, the term of the day—developed a sense of “twoness,” the consciousness 
of the self and the consciousness of what the other thinks. 19 And I’m not sure 
today if Du Bois meant that as a weakness, but I’m claiming it as a strength. 
The ability to be both/and, to think about what it means to be black, but also to 
imagine what you think it means for me to be black develops in me empathy 
and intuitiveness. What Du Bois calls double consciousness, a wonderful theo¬ 
logian Miguel A. de la Torre calls “multiple consciousness,” because he, as a 
Latino theologian, knows that this stuff is not just about black and white. 20 Our 
Asian brothers and sisters in the room, our Latino/Latina brothers and sisters 
in the room will testify to that. So two is not enough, two doesn’t get it. So de 
la Torre talks about multiple consciousness, a plural consciousness, and that’s 
what I call multivocality, and I’m saying that’s what we need on the border, 
en la frontera. En la frontera we need this multiple consciousness so that we 
can understand the other, and so that we can understand the otherness of our 

You, every one of us, has been disenfranchised at some point. We got left out, 
we got sat down, we got shut out, we went to a meeting and we didn’t feel like 
our voice really mattered. Everybody was urban and we were country. We didn’t 
get it; we didn’t feel that we mattered. That sense of otherness is empathy, and 

19 W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folks (Chicago: A.C. McClurg, 1903). 

20 Miguel A. de la Torre, Reading the Bible from the Margins (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2002), 


The Flesh Became (the) Word 

empathy means we will know one another, and deal with one another on an 
authentic level. We need to develop a border consciousness; Du Bois calls it 
double consciousness. Virgilio Elizondo, Chicano theologian, calls it mestizaje, 
the mixedness of it all. He says that the TexMex are developing un tres raza, a 
third race that is not Chicano and not white, but is blended. And he isn’t talking 
about race blending; he’s talking about consciousness blending. It’s a wonder¬ 
ful concept. I say purposeful, passionate, prophetic leadership on the border 
will rehearse the Reign of God right here on Earth. We need to develop a border 

Second, we need to develop a border ethic, a border theology, a border herme¬ 
neutic, and border exegesis while we’re doing our work in church. We need to 
develop the ability to read texts, and this is what I mean by text—not just the 
biblical text, which is so critical, but also the texts of the people in the midst of 
us—living texts. We need to be able to read those texts with a border hermeneu¬ 
tic, and we need to read the text that is our own self with a border hermeneutic. 
How am I like you? How am I distinct from you? We need to develop a border 
ethic, a border hermeneutic, a border theology, and the ability to do border 
exegesis. The Japanese call that bordemess fu chi,fu chi. So we want to be able 
to have a sense of what’s going on in these texts, not just through our own lens, 
but from the lens of the other. In the Korean culture there’s this thing called 
Han. Han is a kind of sorrow or disappointment. And it is not just an individual 
Han; there can be a collective Han. Korean culture believes that whenever there 
is injustice in the world, there is a collective Han. With a border ethic, when 
someone’s hungry, our stomach is growling. When somebody down the street 
is heartbroken, our heart aches too. While there’s still racial injustice in South 
Africa, we are conscious of the racial injustice in our midst. A border ethic pulls 
us together as family. 

Third, I think we need to develop border leaders. We need prophetic, passion¬ 
ate, purposeful leaders to go back to our context and teach the gospel from the 
margin. We teach the gospel through different lenses. What does that look like, 
preacher? Well, we have to get some tools. We buy books and we read and 
understand that there are other theologies besides John Calvin. There is mujerista 
theology, liberation theology, xvomanist theology, elephant theology. I was talking 
to the seminarians last night and I was saying that we leaders in the congregations 
have to be lifelong students of what else is going on in the world so that those 
things can shape our preaching and our teaching, and our leadership development. 

To read the Bible in Spanish, for example, is to give one different interpreta¬ 
tions about the word love, and the word God. To read the Bible with a Spanish 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

understanding gives a person a different interpretation because of social loca¬ 
tion, and because of language. In order to know more fully who God is and what 
God is saying, we need other perspectives. So you subscribe to publications 
that give you other perspectives. You read literature that gives other perspec¬ 
tives. You make friends with one other person, and you read the lectionary with 
that person. What does that text say to you? And in the diversity and your own 
context, because—believe it—it’s there. There are people from England, and 
there are people from Poland, and there are people whose ancestors are German 
in your own context. There’s something called an Ethiopian Bible study. So you 
just read the text, and then you leave a space in silence. And you just ask your 
lay leaders, maybe those you’re training, what does that text say to you? And as 
they speak from their own heart and their own conviction, you learn about how 
to story the gospel in their language. Because they’re your tutors, and they’re 
your mentors, and they’re your teachers. 

Our congregants, our students, our colleagues, our children are waiting for the 
words that affirm their flesh, for the words that make their flesh sing with affir¬ 
mation and joy. May we construct those kinds of narratives, so that the particular 
flesh of all of God’s people is celebrated, known to be awesomely and wonder¬ 
fully made, healed and whole, m 



The First French Institutes : Calvin’s Pastoral Voice 

by Elsie Anne McKee 

Elsie Anne McKee is professor of Reformation studies at Princeton Theological 
Seminary. Her translation from French to English of Calvin’s 1541 Institutes of 
the Christian Religion provides the basis for the Seminary’s online program Ad 
Fontes, a systematic study of Reformed theology. 

l~j[o w many people associate the word “pastoral” with John Calvin’s Institutes 
of the Christian Religion ? Even fewer than would use that word to describe 
Calvin himself. Although it could be argued that the Latin Institutes has more 
pastoral elements than is often thought, the focus of this essay is the way that the 
French reformer shaped his translation of the Latin text to serve an audience of 
lay Christians in his homeland. The first part introduces the 1541 French transla¬ 
tion, and the main body of the essay examines how Calvin adapted his work to a 
lay audience. This will include both typical sorts of adaptations and attention to 
the character of the work. 1 

It is common knowledge that Protestant reformers made a concerted effort to 
speak and write in a language that ordinary people could understand. Because 
most people today read Calvin’s Institutes in a translation, it is often forgotten 
that he actually wrote it in Latin, the normal medium for theology or other seri¬ 
ous discourse in his day (as it had been for centuries). The thoughtful person, 

1 This essay is based on my translation of the 1541 Institutes: John Calvin, Institutes of the 
Christian Religion: 1541 French Edition , trans. Elsie Anne McKee (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. 
Eerdmans, 2009). The comparison is made with the reprinting of the 1539 Latin edition by 
Richard F. Wevers, Institutes of the Christian Religion of John Calvin 1539: Text and Concor¬ 
dance (Grand Rapids: Meeter Center for Calvin Studies, 1983). Hereafter these will be noted 
as McKee 1541 with page number, or Wevers with chapter:paragraph:line. Ideally, the com¬ 
parison would include also the critical edition of the French by Olivier Millet, but in view of 
the length of the text, this is cited only at specific points: Jean Calvin, Institution de la Religion 
Chrestienne (1541), edition critique par Olivier Millet (Gendve: Droz, 2008), hereafter cited as 
Millet with the page number. 

DOI: 10.3754/1937-8386.2010.31.14 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

however, will ask how the Latin origin of the Institutes fits with the Protestant 
detennination to provide religious teaching to ordinary people, and whether per¬ 
haps this book was an exception to that purpose. The answer is that Calvin and 
other reformers often translated their scholarly works, or had them translated, 
into various vernaculars. (They might also translate the works of friends, as 
Calvin had an edition of Philip Melanchthon’s Loci Communes/Common Places 
published in French.) 

Beginning with the second edition of the Institutes in 1539, Calvin himself trans¬ 
lated each following edition of the Latin into French. The 1539 was published 
in French in 1541, 1543 in 1545, 1550 in 1551, and 1559 in 1560. Because 
Latin was the international language of theology, the Latin Institutes became 
the source of the translations into other vernaculars, including English, and thus 
Calvin’s own French Institutes have largely been ignored by all except French 
Calvin specialists. (The one exception to this is students of French literature, 
because the first translation in 1541 came to be regarded as a foundational text 
for the modem French language. Even those who dislike—or detest!—his theol¬ 
ogy, are obliged to admire the elegance of his classical French style. 2 ) 

One of the consequences of the neglect of the French Institutes has been a corre¬ 
sponding myopia about the pastoral character of Calvin’s writing. As mentioned 
above, discerning readers can see this pastoral orientation in the Latin Institutes, 
provided that they understand pastoral care in sixteenth-century Protestant terms 
as teaching that edifies, including comfort for assurance of salvation but also 
formation in faith and life. However, that is a subject for another occasion. The 
focus here is a more limited sense of “pastoral,” that is, identifying how Cal¬ 
vin the Latin-writing theologian adapted his teaching to the comprehension of 
non-Latin speakers. In this connection, it is useful to remember that French, like 
some other early modem languages, did not have a well-developed vocabulary 
for serious theology. 3 Furthermore, when Calvin began to publish his French 
Institutes, access to French Bibles was extremely limited; the first full New 
Testament translated from the original Greek had appeared less than ten years 

2 For a useful overview, see Francis Higman, “Calvin and the Art of Translation” (1970), in 
Lire et decouvrir. La circulation des idees au temps de la Reforme (Geneve: Droz, 1998), 371— 
89. For the most recent exposition of this, including the way that the French Institutes came to 
be regarded as the manifestation of the ideal French language, see Olivier Millet, “Die moder- 
nen Editionen der Institutio von 1541 (1911-2008), Vorgeschichte und kulturgeschichtliche 
Betractungen eine deutsch-franzosische Geschichte?” forthcoming in Calvin und 
Calvinismu —Europaische Perspektiven , ed. Irene Dingel and Herman Selderhuis. 

3 See Francis Higman, “The Reformation and the French Language” (1976), in Lire et 
decouvrir. La circulation des idees au temps de la Reforme (Geneve: Droz, 1998), 337-51, 
here 341-42. 


First French Institutes 

earlier, in 1535. Thus, not only could Calvin not assume that people knew the 
words he needed in order to express in French concepts which had been devel¬ 
oped in Latin, but what they knew of scripture would be mostly oral and derived 
from the Vulgate. 

It is also important to bear in mind that the curriculum for vernacular schools 
was different from and more limited than what was available in Latin. Not only 
did the students in the different schools learn to read and write in different lan¬ 
guages, but while humanists studied Greek and Roman classics, popular schools 
tended to have practical concerns such as the Arabic numbers, which facilitated 
commerce. In addition, the number of people who could actually read was quite 
small by modem standards. On the other hand, it was customary to read aloud, 
so a much larger population could benefit from hearing a text such as the Insti¬ 
tutes read by a literate member of the family or village or community. 4 

This discussion of how Calvin adapted his Latin Institutes to a French-language 
audience is based on a comparison between the 1539 Latin and its 1541 transla¬ 
tion. The comparison is not exhaustive; I did not make a line-by-line study. This 
is the fruit of more focused comparisons of specific points or passages, carried 
out in the course of translating the French text into English. 5 Therefore, though 
the types of differences between the Latin and the French are clear, I make no 
claim that the proportions of my examples are exact or even that every possible 
comparison is included. 

Before turning to specific differences, however, it is important to have some 
idea of what these two texts have in common. One aspect of this is how they are 
alike in being distinct from the earlier and later editions of the Institutes. Most 
obviously, the 1539 Latin and the 1541 French were the same text of seventeen 
chapters, triple the size of the first little book published in 1536. This 1539 edi¬ 
tion included the single largest increase of new material and the most significant 
rearrangement before 1559. This edition of the Institutes was also distinctive 
for the fluency and coherence of its style. The preparation of a new edition of 
the Institutes was not a simple matter of cut and paste. Normally Calvin made 
minor modifications, most often simply to smooth transitions, but at times he 
also altered details or even occasionally interpretations. (In 1543, the next Latin 
edition after 1539, he recast a number of sections so that their formulation was 

4 The idea that Calvin was thinking of auditors is supported by the way that the French sub¬ 
stitutes an address to “my friends” (McKee 1541, 270) for tire Latin amice lector (Wevers, 

5 A full presentation of all the evidence will appear elsewhere. Here the purpose is to provide 
examples of specific observations. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

significantly different from before.) However, because he was writing so much 
of the book for the first time in 1539, the consistency of Calvin’s style is impres¬ 
sive—perhaps greater than he ever achieved again for the Institutes as a whole 
(given that later there was inevitably some unevenness as the book underwent 
successive levels of revision). 

Another distinctive feature of the 1539 edition, which is more significant for 
present purposes, is that it was the first to be published after Calvin gained some 
pastoral experience. The 1536 Institutes had been written by a gifted young 
scholar who had no idea of becoming a pastor, but before the 1539 Latin and 
especially before the 1541 French editions appeared, Calvin had been a pastor 
in two rather different contexts. One was the newly Protestant Geneva where, 
although the city had voted to follow the gospel, a considerable number of the 
people did not have a deep investment in or knowledge of the new teaching of 
the Bible; the other was the congregation of French-speaking religious refugees 
in German-speaking Strasbourg, who had paid the heavy price of exile in order 
to be able to worship in the new way. Perhaps his determination to produce the 
French translation is partly owed to Calvin’s Strasbourg flock; although most 
of the actual changes from 1539 to 1541 appear to be shaped primarily by the 
different mental worlds that could be expected of Latin-educated and vernacular- 
educated audiences, some (especially on infant baptism) may have reflected 
what he learned from his parishioners. 6 

Although the first and second editions of the Institutes were written in Latin, the 
first had a catechetical character, whereas the second was more of a theologi¬ 
cal textbook. In 1536 Calvin’s purpose had been to express the basic Christian 
faith of French believers (“Protestants”) as an apologia to King Francis I and 
the international audience to whom Calvin was appealing on behalf of these 
persecuted French Protestants. Some time after this first Latin publication he had 
begun to translate the Institutes into French but did not complete this transla¬ 
tion—probably because he was busy with pastoral work and because, more 
practically, he had also written a shorter catechism, in French, for Geneva. 7 By 
1539, though, Calvin was looking toward the task of teaching new pastors for 
the reformed church, so the new Latin was reoriented in that direction. It might 
seem that this would make the Institutes less useful for a vernacular audience. 
However, it should be remembered that when Calvin was first translating the 

6 See below at nn. 40ff. 

7 See Millet’s critical edition for a full introduction to the translation, including references to 
paragraphs translated directly from the 1536 before the minor revisions of those passages were 
made in 1539. 


First French Institutes 

Institutes , there were very few trained pastors and no organized churches in his 
beloved France, and most leaders of these new followers of the gospel would 
need their theology available in French if they were to make any real use of it. 
Perhaps Calvin’s refugee congregation in Strasbourg served to help him grasp 
the educational level of lay leaders among the French Protestants: people who 
understood the new teaching well enough to have rejected the traditional church 
in which they had grown up but who were unable to articulate clearly their rea¬ 
sons or defend what they affirmed instead. 

Calvin’s Latin and French Institutes were essentially the same book. Flowever, 
in many details they were explicitly directed to two different audiences. Thus, 
though the theology was the same, the presentation had a number of small dif¬ 
ferences that demonstrate that Calvin was in fact consciously trying to make the 
original elite version reasonably accessible to ordinary people; in other words, 
the humanist theologian was acting as a parish pastor. Although this general 
statement holds true for all Latin and French editions, the evidence here is based 
on 1539 and 1541. Before exploring the different texts that Calvin presented to 
the international scholarly world and to his own people at home in France, it is 
useful to look at how he identifies his audiences. 

In fact, this leads to a very interesting observation about gender issues! Cal¬ 
vin distinguishes references to the human race from those to men as a sex. 

This is essentially a function of the Latin text, but it has a curious analogue in 
the French. The Latin normally refers to human beings with the word homo , 
equivalent to the Greek anthropos, and uses vir, meaning a male person, in 
much the same way that Greek uses aner, andros. The Latin of 1539 counts 
1,017 instances of forms of homo and only about thirty-four to forty of vir. 8 The 
French has no equivalent distinction between human being and male person, and 
thus the word homme stands for both. The curious thing, however, is that where 
Calvin employs vir in Latin, he usually does not use homme in French unless he 
is citing a Biblical verse that has the equivalent of virl 9 Most often the French 
parallel for vir is “personnage,” though it can also be one of several other words 
or phrases, including proper names, a change of persons (from “men” to “we”) 
or a generic word such as “each one” or “the wicked.” 10 

8 See Wevers, Institutes of the Christian Religion of John Calvin 1539. Text and Concordance. 
Volume I: Text and Indices. “Lemma Frequency Index,” 21,51. 

9 For example, 7,000 men in 1 Kings 19:18 (OS 3, 24, line 14; Millet, 156; McKee 1541, 17). 
John 1:13 (Wevers 2:15:32; Millet, 298; McKee 1541, 71). 

10 Letter to Francis I, illi viri (OS 3, 18. line 5) becomes sainctzpersonages (Millet, 159; 
McKee 1541, 13). Vir is substituted for Augustine and French has personnage (Wevers 
6:25:62; Millet, 895; McKee 1541, 354). Viri for Noah, Daniel, and Job where French has per- 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

What is pertinent here is that Calvin clearly thinks of his Latin readers as men, 
but he just as plainly includes all the faithful among those he addresses in 
French. The phrase “good and truly studious men” ( boni viri et veri studiosi ) of 
1539 becomes “those who fear God and are zealous for truth” in 1541; the Latin 
says that opponents of the new teaching are vexing “orthodox and devout men” 
(orthodoxos ac pios viros), whereas the French calls the victims “the faithful.” * 11 
It is clear, then, that whereas the Latin Institutes was addressed to scholars 
whom Calvin assumed would be male, the French Institutes was consciously 
directed to the faithful who would include both men and women. 

How, then, did Calvin (re)shape and adapt his 1539 Institutes when he published 
the first French edition in 1541? This essay first gives the obvious differences 
between the Latin and the French, and then a series of more subtle and far more 
numerous changes. The types of alterations are arranged by general categories, 
including accommodation to different kinds and levels of knowledge in the 
French audience, and accommodation to different social and cultural as well as 
religious sensibilities. 

The relatively few formal changes between 1539 and 1541 may in fact be the 
result of trying to fit the book to the French lay audience. For example, although 
the content is essentially the same as the 1539 Latin, the title used for the 1541 
French comes from the first 1536 edition: “ Instruction in the Christian Religion, 
in which is comprised a summary of piety and almost all that it is necessary to 
know about the doctrine of salvation.'’’ This is clearly more pastorally oriented 
than the 1539 Latin name: “ Institutes of the Christian Religion, at length truly 
corresponding to its title" (i.e., the reference to being a sum of piety is omit¬ 
ted, but Calvin affirms that now the book really fulfills its claim to be a com¬ 
plete theology). 12 Second, the order of the chapters in the last third of the book 
is altered in French so that the chapter “on the five other ceremonies falsely 
called sacraments, that is, confirmation, penance, extreme unction, ecclesiastical 
orders, and marriage” (which Protestants considered invented by Rome) comes 

sonnages (Wevers 9:9:44; Millet, 1155; McKee 1541, 470); other Biblical characters (Wevers 
15:2:27; Millet, 1588; McKee 1541, 659). Sanctus illi vir becomes Nectarius, homme renomme 
de sainctete et grande doctrine (Wevers 5:21:26; Millet, 751; McKee 1541, 285). Virpius 
becomes nous (Wevers 8:19:81; Millet, 1109; McKee 1541, 452). Sometimes the male empha¬ 
sis is removed from a quotation and vir becomes menteurs, mechants, iniques, e.g., Ps. 26:4 & 

9 (Wevers 6:35:8-9; Millet, 929; McKee 1541, 372). In 1 Cor. 12:28 senate gravium virorum 
becomes assemblee des anciens (Wevers 15:2:20; Millet, 1587; McKee 1541, 659). 

11 Wevers 14:7:6-7; Millet, 1528; McKee 1541, 636. Wevers 4:21:4; Millet, 567; McKee 1541,199. 

12 Christianae Religionis Institutio totam fere pietatis summam et quidquid est in doctrina 
salutis cognitu necessarium complectens, omnibus pietatis studiosis lectu dignissimum opus ac 
recens edition (1536). Institutio Christianae Religionis nunc vere demum suo titulo respon¬ 
ded (1539). 


First French Institutes 

immediately after the chapters that explain baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the 
two sacraments that Protestants affirmed as given by Christ. The Latin had put 
this chapter much later in the sequence, 13 but Calvin apparently thought that 
new believers, living in a context where all seven of the traditional sacraments 
were constantly in practice around them, would find it easier to have the whole 
discussion of sacraments together. Those are the formal, easily visible changes, 
but they are far from being the total. 

The majority of Calvin’s more subtle changes in the 1541 Institutes are various 
ways of adapting the text to a French-speaking audience. Some of the changes 
are related to differences in kinds and extent of education among vernacular 
readers, others to differences of religious culture and sensibility among laity, 
and still others to the differences between the more highly inflected Latin and 
the more conversational French language. Some alterations were also probably 
owed to Calvin’s slightly different roles with the two audiences, as the Latin 
teacher could be somewhat more reserved, while the French pastor exercised a 
ministry of exhortation as well as instruction. 

What are perhaps the most obvious changes are Calvin’s accommodations to a 
French audience, which would have a rather different educational background 
than he could presuppose for Latin university-educated men. This is especially 
visible in substitutions for classical references. Because the curriculum for a 
vernacular school would not include the sources that Calvin the humanist took 
for granted in his own circle, many of the allusions with which he had seasoned 
his Latin text would be useless or confusing for a lay audience. The simplest 
form of accommodation to this ignorance was to insert brief explanatory words 
to identify persons from antiquity. The French text adds the words “Roman 
emperor” or “philosopher” or “heretic” or “bishop” or some other noun, where 
the Latin merely gives the names. Thus, Caligula becomes “Caligula, a Roman 
emperor,” Seneca becomes “Seneca, a pagan philosopher,” the Anomeans have 
“a sect of heretics” added to their name, and Eucherius has “bishop of Lyons” 
added to his. 14 Sometimes the Latin makes an allusion that would be obvious 
to a learned audience without giving a name and the French supplies a fuller 
identification: the Latin “that rhetorician” becomes “Demosthenes, a Greek ora¬ 
tor,” the Latin “that holy man” becomes “Nectarius, of whom we have spoken 
above.” At other times, a generic term is substituted for the name given in 
Latin: Solon becomes “legislateurs.” 15 Occasionally, this technique is applied to 

13 Chap. 13 in French, chap. 16 in Latin. 

14 Wevers 1:2:35, 17:13:18, 4:21:23, 2:11:16; McKee 1541, 26, 696, 200, 64. 

15 Wevers 2:12:34, 5:21:26, 14:1:17; McKee 1541, 66, 293, 628. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

Biblical figures, for example, the French calls Hannah “the mother of Samuel,” 
evidence that Calvin did not expect his readers to know all the characters of less 
familiar Bible stories, either. 16 

Calvin appears to think some names are common knowledge, for example, Plato, 
Aristotle, and Cicero. At other times, a figure is cited by name in the translation 
with no more identification than is given in the Latin—Solon, Cato, Catiline and 
Camillus, Helen, Lactantius and Eusebius, Laurentius Valla, Basil the Great, 
and Isidore 17 —perhaps because the context made it clear, perhaps because some 
names would be familiar from popular stories (e.g., Helen of Troy), perhaps 
simply because Calvin was not always watching carefully to be sure he gave his 
French readers the usual clues. 

Another way Calvin helps his less educated readers is by dropping or altering 
classical allusions or examples. Sometimes he substitutes a common term or 
proverb; a much longer classical comparison of Attilius Regulus and Augustus 
Ceasar becomes a simple story about the difference between a person in prison 
and one who rules the earth; “synecdochae” becomes “a part for the whole”; 
“hellebore” becomes “medicine”; a learned allusion to words by Plautus (who 
is not actually named) becomes in French a simplified summary: to “seek what 
is not there.” 18 At other times, the French text may entirely omit the classical 
reference, for example, a Ciceronian proverb. 19 Here there are also occasional 
examples of a simplification in scriptural references; where the Latin gives 
names for those who made the tabernacle in the wilderness, the French just 
refers to them as “gifted by the Holy Spirit” for the task. 20 

Sometimes a classical comment in the Latin will be extensively rewritten for 
the French audience; for example, an illustration of cultural differences seen in 
Greek palliates and Roman togas is summarized as “clothing” and a local exam¬ 
ple of the heraldry of French and English banners is inserted: “They add meta¬ 
phors to make their saying more clear and plain, as: in war one distinguishes 
the French and the English from each other by the fact that the French wear a 
white cross and the English a red cross, as also the Romans were distinguished 
from the Greeks by the difference of their clothing.” 21 The idea contained in a 

16 Wevers 9:19:26; McKee 1541, 477. 

17 Millet, 1595, 1712, 317, 1391, 424, 200, 1057, 1440; McKee 1541, 663, 710, 81, 576, 132, 
426, 446, 598. 

18 Wevers 2:24:163-66, 3:6:6, 5:26:13, 16:8:8. McKee 1541, 99, 121, 298, 592. 

19 Wevers 5:22:1-2; McKee 1541, 293. 

20 Wevers 2:14:74; McKee 1541,70. 

21 Wevers 10:9:8-9; McKee 1541, 502. 


First French Institutes 

classical example may be included (e.g., a discussion of ephors, tribunes, and 
demarches), but the French is significantly shorn of a number of details and 
potentially explosive ideas such as resistance to kings, and simply retains the 
point about magistrates who function as “defenders of the people.” 22 

At other times, Calvin adds to the French explanations that would be unnec¬ 
essary for university-educated men. For example, he inserts a definition of 
monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy, though in the Latin he discusses only the 
weaknesses of each form of government; or he explains “anthropomorphites” as 
“those who imagine a physical God.” 23 In Latin he refers to Plato’s idea of the 
soul remembering, but in French he adds that this means “what the soul knew 
before it was put in the body.” 24 

Some religious language characteristic of humanists is dropped or altered. For 
example, Calvin can use the exclamation “Deus bone ” in Latin, but that disap¬ 
pears in French. An allusion to Cicero’s words about “the gods” becomes “God” 
in French, a reference to the tripod of the Delphic oracle drops out completely 
and another use of “oracle” is changed to “the testimony which Moses claims.” 25 
Partly this pattern of changes is an accommodation to ignorance, partly it 
appears to be an accommodation to “the weak” in faith who would be at least 
puzzled by such pagan echoes and at worst might be made to stumble and turn 
from the gospel. However, before pursuing more specifically questions of theo¬ 
logical changes in the 1541 Institutes , it is appropriate to examine further the 
alterations related to correcting ignorance and facilitating communication. 

Rather naturally, the number of Greek citations of scriptural words is greatly 
reduced in the French. Most of the time the idea is given without any reference 
to the Greek, but sometimes Calvin seems to consider a particular word or con¬ 
cept either sufficiently important or sufficiently comprehensible to be named and 
explained. “When St. Paul mentions the redemption done by Him, he commonly 
calls it in Greek apolytrosis (Rom. 3[24]; 1 Cor. 1 [30]; Eph. 1 [7]; Col. 1 [14]), 
which signifies not simply redemption as the common language understands it, 
but the price and satisfaction that we call ransom in French.” 26 

22 Wevers 15:17:29-32; McKee 1541, 680. 

23 Wevers 15:4:29; McKee 1541, 651. Wevers 3:11:67; McKee 1541, 132. 

24 Wevers 2:14:37; McKee 1541,69. 

25 Wevers 11:25:9, 2:14:68. 8:5:67; McKee 1541, 541, 69, 422. Omission of Delphic oracle, 
Wevers 16:6:10; McKee 1541, 589. 

26 Wevers 5:32:69-71; McKee 1541, 305; cf. Wevers 10:2:11; McKee 1541, 496. More com¬ 
mon is the practice of replacing a Greek word (e.g., ephemeron) with an explanation (“lives 
one day”); Wevers 17:19:59; McKee 1541, 704; cf. Wevers 10:3:12; McKee 1541, 497. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

Here the Latin does not use the word “ransom” and it also gives another Greek 
word, antilutron [1 Tim. 2:6], but the French goes on to convey the sense 
without further reference to the Greek. In the Latin text, citations of Greek are 
more common than Hebrew and so it is not surprising that the same propor¬ 
tions are maintained in the French, though in much reduced form. References 
to a Hebrew word are extremely rare in the translation; once the word Elohim is 
used but in the other place where the Latin discusses that term the French merely 
says “a Hebrew word.” The Latin discussion of “messiah” ( meschiae ) is given 
in French as “God’s anointed,” and “Christ” is explained the same way. 27 On 
several occasions, in both the Latin and the French, there are critical remarks 
about the Vulgate, but the Latin usually does not bother to identify it, whereas 
the French calls it “the common translation.” 28 

While comments on biblical languages are rare, Calvin frequently adds brief 
explanatory words for specific texts. These can be simply to clarify: for exam¬ 
ple, in 2 Cor. 1:20, where Paul says the promises are “‘amen’ in Christ,” he adds 
“that is, they are ratified in Him”; or explains Hosea 14:2: “‘the sacrifices of 
our lips’: that is the satisfaction which is only thanksgiving”; or inserts a note 
of explanation about practices in Genesis (6:18, 9:8-17, 17:2): “The ancients, 
in order to confirm their agreements, had the custom of killing a sow.” 29 Natu¬ 
rally, the explanations are frequently a theological interpretation. In 2 Cor. 5:19, 
where the Latin says “the one who was pure and clean of sin was made sin for 
us,” the French adds “that is, was made the Sacrifice onto whom all our sins 
were transferred”; in Eph. 5:26 the phrase “word of life” is explained “which 
is the gospel”; in Rom. 12:6 the Latin says “all scripture ought to be measured 
according to the proportion and likeness of faith,” and the French inserts “which 
always has regard to the promises.” 30 Similarly, brief insertions are a common 
way to clarify theological topics. For example, Calvin explains “the difference 
between excommunication and execration, which the ecclesiastical doctors call 
‘anathema,’” or defines “indifferent things, which are not, in themselves, either 
good or bad.” 31 

Sometimes these additions are less for information than for ease in following 
the thought: a Biblical speaker is named before a quotation which the Latin does 

27 Wevers 4:24:3, 1:12:35, 15:72-73; McKee 1541, 203, 45, 678. 

28 Both refer to “common translation” [Vulgate] as being inaccurate: Wevers 4:4:26-27; 
McKee 1541, 202. Latin omits but French says “common translation”: Wevers 2:20:164-65; 
McKee 1541, 88. 

29 Wevers 4:11:3, 5:32:84, 10:3:2-3; McKee 1541, 187, 306, 496. 

30 Wevers 6:5:23, 11:1:21-22, 11:14:13; McKee 1541,325,511,523. 

31 Wevers 4:53:71, 13:9:1-2; McKee 1541, 253, 626. 


First French Institutes 

not bother to introduce, or other figures are identified. Some examples include: 
“whom St. Luke mentions,” “thus says Jeremiah,” “by Moses,” “according to 
the prophet,” “David says.” 32 Frequently the clarification is a kind of reinforce¬ 
ment of a theological concept by filling out something implicit in the Latin. For 
example, the Latin says “But possibly there are those who will indeed concede 
that human will is converted only to good by God’s power,” whereas the French 
explains good as “righteousness and uprightness.” The Latin refers to “the 
sinner, declining in the ability to distinguish good and evil,” which the French 
completes “which he has in his heart.” 33 

A particularly helpful aspect of this category of clarifying additions is the way 
that the French often replaces Latin pronouns or the implied subjects found in 
the endings of verbs with nouns or even phrases. For example, French says “our 
Pharisees,” or in another place, “these good people of whom we have spoken,” 
where the Latin has the subject implicit in the verb, or the Latin pronoun “istF 
(these) becomes in French “the dreamers against whom we speak.” 34 This is 
partly a function of the difference between the highly inflected Latin language 
and the much less tight grammar of French, but it is also almost certainly a func¬ 
tion of Calvin’s awareness that his vernacular text was more likely to be read 
aloud. For auditors, having subjects named frequently would be an important 
factor in keeping the argument straight. Another demonstration of this principle 
is the way that Calvin introduces opponents and especially puzzled would-be 
believers into the conversation. Often the questions are implied or indirectly sug¬ 
gested in the Latin, but the French takes this a step further, and at least several 
times it inserts, “But someone will object” or “someone will ask.” 35 The flow of 
the Latin is made more accessible by this emphasis on dialogue in the French. 

Often the additions provide a pastoral kind of reflection or exhortation or 
safeguards for distinguishing good teaching from traditional misinterpretations. 
When discussing the situation of the elect before their calling, he adds: “As it 
sometimes happens that our Lord does not reveal Himself at first to His faith¬ 
ful but allows them to walk for some time in ignorance before He calls them.” 

To believers worrying about family members who had not converted to the 
gospel, this would be very comforting. With reference to the instruction in Gal. 

6:10 to pray for the household of faith, Calvin inserts a helpful comment on 
that vexed question of who should be included here: “These are those whom we 

32 Wevers 4:12:40, 5:32:35, 6:32:33, 6:32:34, 6:35:2; McKee 1541, 189, 304, 366 (bis), 372. 

33 Wevers 2:20:25, 2:16:26; McKee 1541. 84, 74, 

34 Wevers 6:42:1, 8:2:20, 7:5:1; McKee 1541, 380,416, 395. 

35 Wevers 2:24:83-88, 3:24:49-50, 17:21:12,8:13:14; 6:32:21; McKee 1541, 102, 161,706, 
435, 365. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

know, inasmuch as we can judge, are presently the true faithful and servants of 
God.” 36 Here there is no absolute identification of elect and no statement about 
the future, but simply a practical guide “inasmuch as we can judge” for the 
present. In discussing the sacraments, Calvin is not satisfied with the Latin word 
“signs” but adds in French “or sacraments which the Lord left and commanded 
to His church,” to reinforce for his lay audience the definition of true sacraments 
as only established by God by explicit command, lest they be confused by the 
traditional teaching on things like extreme unction based on James 5. 37 

At times the additions also give concrete examples to illumine the application 
of scripture, as when Calvin explains how rulers can exercise judgment without 
breaking the sixth commandment: “Just as when a prince forbids all his subjects 
to carry an offensive weapon or wound anyone, he nevertheless does not prevent 
his officers from executing the justice which he had particularly committed to 
them.” 38 At other times, the additional words can function to help the reader 
make logical connections by indicating the movement of the argument or repeat¬ 
ing words or phrases: “We can explain this with metaphors,” “As I have said, 
concerning the second article,” or “I concede that it would be desirable for it to 
be otherwise.” 39 

The most extensive additions to the French are related to the sacraments. Rather 
naturally, many of these are polemical. The comments on baptism show Calvin’s 
concern to make a defense on two fronts, against the Anabaptists and against 
the traditional church. For example, referring to the Anabaptists, the Latin says, 
“They mock the ordinance which the Lord made for circumcision,” and the 
French adds, “which is of the same value and consideration” [as baptism]. Dis¬ 
cussing the differences between baptizing adults and infants, Calvin adds to the 
French, “That this is so is not something we invent as our own mind pleases but 
we have certain assurance from scripture to make such a distinction.” 40 Referring 
to Rome, the Latin says that the water of baptism is “disdained and contami¬ 
nated” by comparison with the oil (used in traditional anointing) and the French 
inserts sharply that the water “is God’s sign” (over against the human cer¬ 
emony of oil). Other additions help the scattered French believers guard against 
other traditional errors, such as withholding the cup from the laity. 41 Given the 
importance of penance and absolution in medieval piety, it is not surprising that 

36 Wevers 3:29:22, 9:24:23; McKee 1541, 170, 481. 

37 Wevers 11:12:2; McKee 1541, 521. 

38 Wevers 15:6:12; McKee 1541, 663. 

39 Wevers 2:15:11, 2:15:16, 4:4:60-61; McKee 1541, 71 (bis), 249. 

40 Wevers 11:17:5-6, 11:23:50; McKee 1541,526,538. 

41 Wevers 16:6:38-39, 12:25:40; McKee 1541, 590. 570. 


First French Institutes 

Calvin adds a complete sentence on this point. “For as we have declared suf¬ 
ficiently above, the promise of the keys does not at all pertain to creating some 
special state of absolution, but only to the preaching of the gospel, whether it is 
proclaimed to one person or a number. That is, by this promise (in Matt. 16:19, 
18:18) our Lord does not establish a special absolution which is made individu¬ 
ally to each one but one which is made to all sinners without distinction and as a 
whole.” 42 

While maintaining the order of this essay in moving from classical and biblical 
to theological and polemical issues, it is appropriate to insert a short excursus 
here on the extent of the additions made to the chapter on baptism. In sheer vol¬ 
ume these are significantly greater than those for any other chapter in the book, 
and many of them are discussions of biblical texts. One section explaining Rom. 
1:3, Gal. 3:16, Heb. 2:16 & 4:15 does not appear in the 1539 and then drops out 
of the French itself after 1541. 43 

Much the longest addition is a discussion of Acts 19:4-5, where Paul (re)baptizes 
the disciples who had not heard of the Holy Spirit. Calvin had already explained 
the same passage earlier in the chapter on baptism, and this repetition is dropped 
from later editions of the French. 44 The understanding of Acts 19 does not differ 
in the two passages, but the application is slightly but perhaps significantly dif¬ 
ferent. The first time Calvin uses the text (the explanation which is in both Latin 
and French) the point is rebaptism, that is, his Anabaptist opponents claim Paul’s 
rebaptism of the disciples as legitimation for their own adult baptisms, discount¬ 
ing the rite applied to them as infants on the grounds of their ignorance of true 
teaching. Calvin responds that the meaning is that Paul laid hands on the people 
previously baptized in water, now giving them the baptism of the Holy Spirit 
such as happened on Pentecost. When Acts 19 is discussed the second time, only 
in the 1541 edition of the Institutes , Calvin focuses on the issue of the ignorance 
of the infants being baptized, reiterating his earlier point about the need for daily 
rebaptism if the problem were ignorance: “Every one of us would have to have a 
river to be rebaptized, for who is there among us who does not recognize day by 
day great and weighty ignorance in himself? For every such acknowledgement 
he would have to run to a new baptism.” The later elimination of this section 
does not shortchange Calvin’s argument, but it is interesting to observe that pre¬ 
cisely in 1541 he thought it was worth repeating this explanation to emphasize 
that the ignorance of infants per se should not hinder their baptism. 

42 Wevers 16:8:53; McKee 1541, 593. 

43 Wevers 11:20:46, 11; McKee, 534. 

44 Wevers 11:10:43-78. 11:25:60-61; McKee 1541,519, 542M3. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

The French chapter on baptism is also the locus of some of the longest pas¬ 
sages, which are different formulations of the Latin. Particularly important is a 
discussion on how to read and interpret scripture and then how to understand 
the relationship of external and internal, sign and reality. Scattered through the 
rest of the text are a number of shorter reformulations, which sometimes expand, 
sometimes simplify the Latin. At some points the order of the material is dif¬ 
ferent in the two languages, as in an exposition of 1 Pet. 3:21. 45 The editors of 
the Opera Selecta conjecture that the differences between the 1539 Latin and 
the 1541 French on the subject of infant baptism may stem from Calvin’s having 
originally conceived this section as an independent treatise directed against Ana¬ 
baptists with whom he was in considerable debate during his ministry in Stras¬ 
bourg. Beyond the circumstantial observation that Calvin was much engaged 
with Anabaptists, the only concrete evidence they cite (which they recognize 
should not be overestimated) is not borne out by a more extensive examina¬ 
tion of the French. (They refer to the use of the word “traicte” in the chapter on 
infant baptism, but they do not recognize that Calvin regularly uses this word 
to refer to the different topics or chapters of the book. 46 ) Olivier Millet, in his 
critical edition of the 1541 Institutes, indicates that he also has doubts about 
this view of the Opera Selecta editors and considers the chapter a translation, 
even though at times it is loose. 47 Here it suffices to note what it signifies about 
Calvin’s sense that French evangelicals particularly needed pastoral counsel on 
the biblical arguments for infant baptism in light of the ways that simple readers 
might be led astray by the more literalist Anabaptist interpretation of the New 
Testament and sola scriptura. 

Having given a great deal of attention to additions to the French, it is also appro¬ 
priate to note that besides adding explanatory words and phrases to his transla¬ 
tion, Calvin also does the reverse. Not infrequently Latin words disappear from 
the French, and occasionally a whole sentence is dropped. Many instances seem 
to be related to finer points of teaching that Calvin did not consider essential 
for his French audience. As noted above, frequently the omissions are classical 
allusions. 48 One notable theological omission is a long polemical sentence citing 
Gen. 1:26 in an argument about using this text to support the doctrine of the trin- 

45 Wevers 11:22:35-47; McKee 1541, 540. 

46 OS 5, 303-304 n. i. This refers to traicte as it appears in Millet, chap. 11, 1315, but see same 
usage in Millet, chap. 2, 284, 347, 365; chap. 4, 521, 549; chap. 6, 905; chap. 7, 966; chap. 

15, 1543. (Chap. 13, 1447 is a rare instance of “chapitre” as equivalent to the more common 
“ traicte .”) 

47 Millet’s view of this is similar, cf. 1270-71 n.54. “Pour notre part, nous constatons que le 
texte de 1541 est bien, dans l’ensemble, soit une traduction, soit un amenagement de celui de 
1539, et que les concordances restent nombreuses.” 

48 See above nn,14ff. 


First French Institutes 

ity. 49 Certainly Calvin teaches the trinity in the French translation, but apparently 
he decided that this particular piece of evidence would be more confusing than 
helpful. (A very unscientific sample says that omitting words from the French 
may be less common than adding them, but that would need to be examined.) 

Calvin’s pastoral adapting of the Institutes for a vernacular audience involves 
even more subtle changes of several kinds. Not infrequently his French rendition 
of a Latin phrase or sentence is more of a paraphrase than an exact translation. 
Sometimes the words are simply more lively or polemical, as when the French 
says, “Madmen find mystery in the law,” while the Latin says, “These people 
(isti) philosophize about the word law,” or the French says “synagogues of 
Turks” instead of the Latin “conventicles of Turks.” 50 Sometimes the phras¬ 
ing may be more relevant to a lay audience: “condemn as wicked” rather than 
“denounce as anathema,” or calling the judges who passed sentence on Christ a 
“consistory.” Not infrequently the alteration expands the Latin, as when the brief 
reference to the value of works a “posteriori” becomes “when they are taken as a 
sign of God’s calling.” 51 

At other times, the French formulation gives a slightly different and usually 
simplified form. At times the purpose was apparently an effort to find more con¬ 
crete or specific words: for example, where the Latin says “in a purer age,” the 
French has “in the early church,” or where the Latin refers to “the mysteries,” 
or “mystical bread,” the French has “Sabbath” or “celebrate the sacraments.” 52 
Sometimes the differences suggest that Calvin is using words or concepts that 
will be familiar or unambiguous; for example, instead of the “ substantia ” of the 
soul, the French says “immortality,” instead of the “body of Christ,” the French 
says “the company of the faithful.” 53 Calvin also seems to avoid complexity that 
he considers unnecessary for lay people, where the difficulty of understanding 
would outweigh the benefit of the elaboration. (This fits with his explicit purpose 
of instructing the teachable but not including all that could be said on a topic.) 
For example, in describing the apostolic practice of baptism, the Latin says that 
they did not baptize anyone who had not already professed faith and repentance, 
but the French simply says they baptized “only adults.” 54 

49 Wevers 4:13:44-49; McKee 1541, 215. 

50 Wevers 3:25:62, 4:54:61; McKee 1541. 163, 256. 

51 Wevers 3:27:41, 3:18:19, 6:21:30; McKee 1541, 165, 148, 348. 

52 Wevers 3:7:46, 3:15:29, 3:16:3-4; McKee 1541, 124, 141, 145. 

53 Wevers 7:6:82, 8:15:90; McKee 1541, 402, 443. 

54 Wevers 11:23:2,4:21:6; McKee 1541,537, 199. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

At other times it is possible Calvin’s reformulation of the idea when it was trans¬ 
lated into French was an effort to avoid specific theological problems or misin¬ 
terpretations, as when he reduces Cornelius’s “alms and prayers” in Acts 10:2 
to simply “prayers,” or changes Abraham’s “prostitution” of Sarah to “abandon¬ 
ment.” Sometimes the change is not easily explained, as when “catechumens” in 
Latin becomes “unbelievers” in French 55 ; perhaps Calvin thought that the word 
“catechumen” would be confusing to his auditors, who would have no precedent 
for it in their traditional religious experience—or perhaps he did not want to stop 
to explain the early church practice of catechesis and barring those who had not 
made a profession of faith from participation in the sacraments. 

Other forms of theological simplification are also visible in the ways that the 
French slightly but significantly reshapes the Latin. Some of the language about 
the Old Testament and Israel is expressed with a more traditional Christian 
flavor. This is evident in translations of Biblical passages, where, for example, 
“Jehovah” is regularly replaced with other, more familiar names for God, such 
as “Lord,” “the Eternal,” or “God” meaning Jesus Christ. 56 Theologically, Calvin 
clearly regards Israel as the form of the church in the Old Testament, but in the 
Latin text his language usually maintains a distinction between the two dispen¬ 
sations, whereas the French tends to assimilate Israel to the Christian church. 
Some of the theological shaping of the translation gives particular attention to 
points that are significant to Protestants, as if Calvin thought these should be 
emphasized when writing to people surrounded by the traditional church. One 
signal for this is the addition of references to the Bible and preaching, which are 
not always explicit in the Latin; for example, once where the Latin says “sacra¬ 
ments,” the French gives “word and sacraments.” 57 

Another expression of this religious shaping of the text is the way the French 
intensifies emotion or the contrast of good and evil. Whether he is adding a 
phrase to emphasize the fallacy of free will (“if people have any”), or to cast 
scorn on a claim (“which shows their great stupidity”), or to heighten a con¬ 
trast (an “impossible” condition), Calvin’s French has an emotional energy not 
evident in the Latin. 58 He adds references to God or Christ on the one hand, or 
the devil, on the other, to give a sense of the real difference between allegiances 
or the true extent of impiety. For example, the Latin asks “with what confidence 
will we be armed” and the French adds “against the devil.” The Latin says the 

55 Wevers 8:14:15, 7:4:25, 16:15:5; McKee 1541, 438, 392, 601. 

56 Wevers 3:12:33, 4:24:19 & 29 & 34, 3:8:2 & 12. 4:26:48 & 49 & 50; McKee 1541, 133, 
203-204, 125,207. 

57 Wevers 6:13:3; McKee 1541, 335. 

58 Wevers 2:17:1. 4:15:10. 2:28:14-15; McKee 1541,76, 191, 109. 


First French Institutes 

scholastic idea of venial sin includes “hidden impiety,” but the French says 
“hidden impiety against God!” and then later where the Latin has venial sin as 
“the impiety and filthiness of the human heart,” the French exclaims, “which is 
the most terrible sin before God.” 59 Although the tone is often more polemical 
in French, occasionally it is less so. At least sometimes this may reflect Cal¬ 
vin’s awareness that the people whom he is criticizing and those to whom he is 
speaking come from the same class. Thus, in the chapter on baptism, when he 
is describing an Anabaptist (mis)understanding of the differences between Old 
and New Testaments, the French says “having read something they don’t have 
the understanding to go beyond” [the words], though the Latin original is rather 
sharper. 60 

Small changes in the French also give it a more intimate or emotional quality. 
The addition of personal pronouns, such as “my sin,” invites the French faith¬ 
ful to enter more fully into the text, the translation of 2 Cor. 4:8 as “we endure 
poverty” instead of “we labor” gives a similar personal intensity. This shades 
over into the language of exhortation; for example, where the Latin says let us 
“accuse ourselves ... be justified in Him” the French repeats the idea in more 
extreme language: “that we be dead in ourselves so that we may be brought to 
life and vivified in Him.” 61 

Sometimes the French offers glimpses into the prevailing religious culture of 
the audience, for example, when a loose translation of the theological state¬ 
ment ‘ facere quod in se est which the Latin simply cites, is called “a common 
proverb,” or a Latin pronoun reference to a Roman priest-confessor becomes 
the folksy “some Master John.” 62 Some phrases make lists more concrete and/ 
or add significant completion to an idea, perhaps even giving specific examples 
when the Latin is more general and abstract. For example, a simple reference to 
“saints” in Latin becomes “swearing by St. James or St. Anthony”; or a refer¬ 
ence to traditional ecclesiastical officials names “suffragans” (bishops) and 
officials in Latin but is expanded to include “vicars and penitentiaries”—persons 
whom the French audience might in fact know better than bishops! 63 

Shaping the Latin text to fit a particular lay audience, in France, is evident in the 
ways Calvin speaks of another significant category of people whom his readers 
would recognize, that is, the theologians of the medieval church. For his French 

59 Wevers 4:14:8, 3:26:2, 5:32:6; McKee 1541, 190, 163, 303. 

60 Wevers 11:18:57-51; McKee 1541,529. 

61 Wevers 5:20:6, 17:17:3, 12:22:40; McKee 1541, 291, 699. 567. 

62 Wevers 2:20:120, 5:20:23; McKee 1541, 87, 292. 

63 Wevers 14:19:9,3:13:79; McKee 1541,647, 138. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

audience, Calvin commonly refers to “the master of the Sentences ,” although the 
Latin uses that descriptive phrase and the proper name Lombard interchange¬ 
ably. (The one exception is a French reference to “their master Lombard,” 
where the Latin sarcastically says, “their Pythagoras, Lombard.”) 64 Apparently 
Calvin thought that his readers would have heard of the Sentences , and prob¬ 
ably the Decretal and “sacred canons” (which he names only rarely, particularly 
in marginal notes), 65 but he was less sure about the name “Lombard” and does 
not use “Gratian” at all. However, it is the collective references that are particu¬ 
larly interesting. The words “scholastics,” “sophists,” and “Sorbonnists,” and 
sometimes a reference to “the schools,” appear in both Latin and French, but the 
proportions are significantly different. 66 The French almost never uses “scholas¬ 
tics,” but it says “Sorbonnists” much more often, suggesting that for practical 
purposes, people in France would see the theological faculty in Paris as not only 
among the most famous but also as the only scholastics in their sphere. Although 
Calvin does not say so, the repetition of the name Sorbonnists might well signify 
an intensified personal resentment toward these particular schoolmen—if not on 
his own part, at least on the part of French followers of the gospel who would 
identify the Sorbonnists as those who were persecuting them and who had con¬ 
demned an increasing number of their fellow believers to exile and the stake. 

Calvin’s audience was essentially persecuted laity, living under the cross. Some 
of the changes in the French translation may reflect the situation of small groups 
and individuals who do not have formal churches or church buildings. For exam¬ 
ple, Calvin omits the phrase “in the church” when he speaks of praying for kings 
and rulers (1 Tim. 2:1-2) and adds a phrase about “as they see that it is good to 
assemble.” Another seemingly insignificant detail might point in the same direc¬ 
tion; in listing what the faithful should be willing to risk for righteousness’ sake, 
Calvin includes the same three items but arranged in different order; in Latin the 
order is life, fortune, and honor, whereas in French it is honor, fortune, and life. 67 
Perhaps for the elite, honor was the most valuable, but ordinary people—who 
would not be judged to have public honor in the same way as nobles—would 

64 Some examples: Wevers 2:10:9, 2:10:42 & 51, 4:63:5, 6:25:59-60; McKee 1541. 62 (thrice), 
270, 354. 

65 Wevers 16:12:27; McKee 1541, 598. 

66 “Canonists and scholastic theologians”: Wevers 5:39:9, and many other examples of scholas- 
tici, but this is the single use in French, McKee 1541, 282. “Sophists of the Sorbonne”: Wevers 
2:21:2; McKee 1541, 88. “Sophists and Sorbonnists” in French (McKee 1541, 176) instead of 
scholasticis sophistis (Wevers 4:1:18); “theologians of the Sorbonne” in French (McKee 1541, 
188, 319) instead of scholastici (Wevers 4:12:9, 6:2:14). “Schools of Sorbonne” in French 
(McKee 1541, 320) instead of schools (Wevers 6:2:28). “Scholastics” (Wevers 6:18:1, 8:8:25) 
becomes “Sorbonnists” (McKee 1541, 343, 426). For more examples, see subject index in 
McKee 1541. 

67 Wevers 8:15:88, 9:16:20, 17:15:7-8; McKee 1541, 443, 474, 698. 


First French Institutes 

naturally consider their lives the highest price they could risk for righteousness. 
And for French Protestants, suffering for their faith, even to death, was a very 
present reality. 


The pastoral character of Calvin’s translation is evident in the multiple ways that 
he sought to accommodate the Latin to his vernacular-speaking audience. One 
notable observation is how smoothly he does this; often the addition of a word 
or two provides the French users with the clues necessary to orient themselves. 
Increased attention to identifying subjects and emphasizing transitions makes 
the text more accessible to readers and especially to auditors. Explanations or 
simplifications of specific points are handled with a minimum of fuss. Some 
nuances of theology are sacrificed to avoid confusing and therefore distracting 
lay Christians from the practical appropriation of the teaching. Illustrations and 
polemic are sometimes localized in accordance with the French context in which 
the audience was living, making adjustments for people who could be vulnerable 
to Anabaptist ideas because of the appeal of a simple reading of the New Testa¬ 
ment. Concrete examples help to bring some of the more abstract Latin ideas 
down to earth. A heightening of contrasts serves to give the lay audience of the 
Institutes a clearer sense of right and wrong teaching. 

The 1541 French Institutes is indeed a translation of the 1539 Latin, but it is 
also a pastorally sensitive accommodation to the specific audience. It does not 
condescend—nor can it be said simply to engage the people where they are—but 
it offers a challenge within the reach of devout lay Christians. s 


Faculty Publications 


Sally A. Brown 

“Exploring the Text-Practice Interface: Acquiring the Virtue of Hermeneutical 
Modesty,” Theology Today 66, no. 3 (2009): 279-94. 

“The Living Word in the Living World: Lehmann for Preachers,” Explorations 
in Christian Theology and Ethics (Burlington: Ashgate, 2009): 121-39. 

“Water, Wine, Word: Sacraments of the Outpoured God,” Insights 125, no. 1 
(2009): 22-24. 

Review of “God against Religion: Rethinking Christian Theology through Wor¬ 
ship,” Theology Today 66, no. 1 (2009): 98-100. 

Donald Capps 

“From Masturbation to Homosexuality: A Case of Misplaced Moral Disap¬ 
proval,” in Men and Masculinities in Christianity and Judaism: A Critical 
Reader, ed. Bjorn Krondorfer (London: SCM Press, 2009), 364-80. 

“Coming to Terms with Our Regrets,” with Nathan S. Carlin, Journal of Reli¬ 
gion & Health 48 (2009): 224-39. 

“Erikson’s Case of the Theological Student,” Pastoral Psychology , 58 (2009): 

“Erikson’s Schedule of Human Strengths and the Church’s Self-Images,” Pasto¬ 
ral Psychology 58 (2009): 337-49. 

“Forty Years with Moses,” Pastoral Psychology 58 (2009): 451-62. 

“God Diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” Pastoral Psychology 
58 (2009): 193-206. 

“The Melancholy Boy and the Religion of Humor: The Case of S. S. Adams,” 
Pastoral Psychology 58 (2009): 15-25. 

“Mental Illness, Religion, and the Rational Mind: The Case of Clifford W. 
Beers,” Mental Health, Religion, and Culture 12 (2009): 157-74. 

“Methuselah and Company: A Case of Male Envy of Female Longevity, with 
Nathan S. Carlin, Pastoral Psychology 58 (2009): 107-26. 

DOI: 10.3754/1937-8386.2010.31.15 


Faculty Publications 2009 

“Norman Vincent Peale, Smiley Blanton, and the Hidden Energies of the Mind,” 
Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling 63 (2009): 507-27. 

“Pastoral Images: The Good Samaritan and the Unjust Judge,” Journal of Pasto¬ 
ral Care & Counseling 63 (2009): 45-56. 

“Relaxed Bodies, Emancipated Minds, and Dominant Calm,” Journal of Reli¬ 
gion & Health 48 (2009): 368-80. 

Ellen T. Charry 

“Educating for Wisdom: Theological Studies as a Spiritual Exercise,” Theology 
Today 66, no. 3, (2009): 295-308. 

Stephen D. Crocco 

Editor, Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

Nancy J. Duff 

“The Commandments and the Common Life: Reflections on Paul Lehmann’s 
The Decalogue and a Human Future, in Explorations in Christian Theol¬ 
ogy and Ethics: Essays in Conversation with Paul L. Lehmann, ed. Philip G. 
Ziegler and Michelle J. Bartel (Burlington: Ashgate, 2009). 

Jacqueline E. Lapsley 

Review of Recovering Nineteenth-Century Women Interpreters of the Bible, ed. 
Christiana de Groot and Marion Ann Taylor (Leiden: Brill, 2007), in Biblical 
Interpretation 17 (2009): 554-55. 

Review of Touching the Altar: The Old Testament for Christian Worship, ed. 
Carol M. Bechtel, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), in Theology’ Today 66 
(2009): 380-82. 

Elsie Anne McKee 

Editor/translator of John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion: The 
1541 French Edition (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2009). 

Japanese translation of John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (New York: 
Paulist Press, 2001), trans. Akira Demura (Tokyo: Shinkyo Publishing Co., 

“Calvijn: Een Schets van zijn Leven en Werk,” in Calvijn en de Nederlanden, 
ed. Karla Apperloo-Boersma and Herman Selderhuis (Apeldoom: Instituut 
voor Reformatieonderzoek, 2009), 110-24. 

“Calvin and Piety,” in Calvin Handbook, ed. Herman Selderhuis (English) 
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2009), 465-71. 


Princeton Seminary Bulletin 

“Johannes Calvins Lehre vom Diakonat,” in Calvinismus: Die Reformierten 
in Deutschland und Europa. Eine Ausstellung des Deutschen Historischen 
Museums Berlin und der Johannes A Lasco Bibliothek Emden, ed. Ansgar 
Reiss and Sabine Witt (Dresden: Sandstein, 2009), 344-50. 

“Calvin and Praying for ‘All People Who Dwell on Earth,’” in Interpretation 
(April 2009): 130-40. 

“Calvin’s Sermons: Treasure and Surprise,” in Pacifica: Australasian Theologi¬ 
cal Studies 22, no. 3 (Oct. 2009): 251-77. 

“The First French Institutes'. Calvin’s Pastoral Voice,” to appear in Princ¬ 
eton Seminary Bulletin 2010; Japanese translation by Masami Kojiro in 
Shingaku (Journal of Theology) of Tokyo Union Theological Seminary 
LXXI (2009): 216-45. 

“(Re)Introducing Pastor Calvin,” in Journal of Presbyterian History 87, no. 2 
(Fall/Winter 2009): 53-61. 

Editor, Princeton Seminary Studies in Reformed Theology and History: We 
Believe in God and in Christ. Not in the Church: The Influence ofWessel 
Gansfort on Martin Bucer, by Marijn De Kroon, trans. Maria Sherwood 
Smith (Louisville: Westminister John Knox, 2009). 

Dennis T. Olson 

“The Book of Exodus,” in A Theological Biblical Commentary>, ed. Gail R. O’Day 
and David Petersen (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 27-40. 

“Abel,” “Abimael,” “Abjuration Formula,” “Amraphel,” “Anak/Anakites,” 
“Animal Worship,” “Apple,” “Arioch,” and “Ashkenaz,” in Encyclopedia 
of the Bible and Its Reception, ed. Hermann Spieckerman and Leong Seow 
(Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009), Vol. 1: p. 58, 91, 103-104, 1054, and 
1077-79; Vol. 2: p. 28-29, 517, 709-10, and 992-93. 

“Moses,” in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Katharine Doob 
Sakenfeld (Nashville: Abingdon, 2009), Vol. 4, p. 142-52. 

“Zigzagging through Deep Waters: A Guide to Brevard Childs’ Canonical 
Exegesis of Scripture,” Word & World 29 (2009): 348-56. 

Online Exegetical Notes for Preachers, Old Testament Lectionary Texts for 
18th-20th Sundays after Pentecost and Reformation Sunday, Year B (Gen¬ 
esis 2:18-24; Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Isaiah 53:4-12; Jeremiah 31:31-34) for 
the Center for Biblical Preaching Luther Seminary. Accessed at workingp- for October 2009. 

Pentateuch Area Editor, Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, ed. Hermann 
Spieckermann and Leong Seow (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009), Vol. 1-2. 


Faculty’ Publications 2009 

Peter J. Paris 

“Dialogue: Unfinished Business,” Hazard Divinity Bulletin 37, no. 1 (Winter 
2009), 8-10. 

J. Wentzel Van Huyssteen 

“Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Human Origins and Religious Awareness,” in 
Becoming Human: Innovation in Prehistoric Material and Spiritual Culture, 
ed. Colin Renfrew and Iain Morley (Cambridge: Cambridge University 
Press, 2009). 

Co-Editor, with Roger Trigg, of the Ashgate Series in Science and Religion 

Co-Editor, with Khalil Chamcham, of the Templeton Science and Religion 
Series: Neuroscience, Psychology, and Religion, Malcolm Jeeves and War¬ 
ren S. Brown (West Conshohocken: Templeton Foundation Press, 2009); 
Technology’ and Religion, Noreen Herzfeld (West Conshohocken: Templeton 
Foundation Press, 2009); Horizons of Cosmology’, Joseph Silk (West Con¬ 
shohocken: Templeton Foundation Press, 2009). 





Made in the USA 
Middletown, DE 
03 October 2016 


A record of Christian thinking at Princeton Theological Seminary 

Editor’s Note Crocco 

Sibling Revelry Brothers 

The Resurrection from the Dead as the Declaration 
of God’s Eternal Being and the Christian Community’s 

Eschatological Reality Flett 

Miraculous Objects and Their Theorists: A Glimpse 

into Attitudes toward the Holy in the Late Middle Ages Bynum 

Witherspoon, Reid, and Scottish Philosophy in America Graham 

Bearing the Unbearable: Trauma, Gospel, and Pastoral Care Hunsinger 

Between Text and Community: Jews and Christians in the Second Century Lieu 

God among the Gods: Defining Deity in a 

Differentiated Religious Context Miller 

Configuring the Text in Biblical Studies Najman 

Between Englishness and Ethiopianism: Making Space at 

Princeton for Intercultural Theology Young 

Covenant and Hope in Civil Society Sacks 

“The Promise of God”: New African Missionary Initiatives in the 

Lengthened Shadow of the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference Hanciles 

The Flesh Became (the) Word: Constructing Counternarratives 

for Gender, Race, and Class Lewis 

The First French Institutes'. Calvin’s Pastoral Voice McKee 

Faculty Publications 2009 


Theological Seminary 


9 7 


0964 489141